Question For FilmTVLaw.com:
How do I protect and register the title of my film? I’ve heard the term chain of title, but not clear on what it really means. I’ve got a really unique title for my feature project and already filed with WGA. What am I missing?
Answer by Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer:
Thank you for your question. I represent a lot of producers and writers and there is generally a lot of confusion out there regarding the chain of title for a film project. The terminology is similar between several different areas of the law, so I will go through and respond to these issues from a number of different points of view. In addition to this article I have nearly a hundred other articles covering all facets of film and television development and production at www.filmtvlaw.com/entertainment-lawyer-qa/
First, it is important to know that copyright is an important part of the chain of title, but somewhat confusingly, copyright does not protect the titles themselves of television series or feature films. Copyright only protects creative content and the titles are not considered to be part of the work of authorship.
This then often leads to the question of why is it that one of the standard deliverables for feature films is called a “title search”? In this case “title” is actually referring to the chain of ownership to the work, much like a car or house has a “title”, meaning a record of ownership. To further confuse things, a title search often does involve searching the titles of copyrightable works but that is done to find other works that might have been infringed.
You will find many copyrighted works, including film and television shows, that all share the same titles although the use of similar or confusing titles, or the reference to titles of other works, is not completely unrestricted.
Producers can go about protecting the actual titles of entertainment works in two principal ways, first is trademark and second for feature film is MPAA registration.
Trademark can be used by both film and television producers to protect the title of a production, although trademark does not specifically protect the title of a creative work either. A trademark is supposed to be what is called a “source identifier.” Trademarks and servicemarks are for the purpose of identifying the maker of some product or service, and thereby keeping consumers from being confused about who created the goods. Coke, Pepsi and Apple are all easy examples of the typical functioning of trademarks. Each of these “marks” identifies a particular maker of drinks or computers.
So when it comes to using trademark to protect the film or television production’s title, some creativity is often required in coming up with a mark that is valid and can protect the title of the work.
Common law or state trademark law is also available in many jurisdictions and it is possible that even if the mark was not filed with the federal trademark office, that there could still be protection for a film or television title at the state law level.
Many producers do not know that for feature films another method of protecting titles exists, which is MPAA registration. MPAA registration can protect a title and is the purpose of reserving titles for theatrical feature films. There are some costs involved but many feature film clients retain us to obtain MPAA protection for planned feature film projects. It is good to start early with this process since names are simply assigned on a first-come first-serve basis.
As with any entertainment matter, please do not make a decision about complex issues without consulting an experienced entertainment lawyer first. Feel free to contact my office at www.filmtvlaw.com about a quote.
- By Brandon Blake, Entertainment Lawyer