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Film Titles on Posters

Posted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 6:03 pm
by m_d_jones
Hi Guys,

Firstly, let me apologise if this has been asked and answered before. I did search previous topics but couldn't find anything that directly answered my question. Which is...

What are the implications of using film titles to create original posters for sale?

As a basic example, a blank poster with simply the names:

The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight
The Prestige
Batman Begins

The names wouldn't be printed in the original font or using any existing logos or images. They would use a font that was similar in style or tone to the original.

Therefore it would simply be the film title that was being reproduced.

My very limited understanding is that a title can only be trademarked and I may have to check each film title to see if it has been trademarked and for what uses?

I would assume a title like 'The Dark Knight Rises' might be tricky to use but Memento (which is a single, common word) would perhaps be freely available to use?

Can anyone give me any advice surrounding this, and indeed where I might be able to check for trademarked film titles.

Thank you.

Posted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 7:39 pm
by AndyJ
Hi m_d
We did have a similar question a while ago, but for the moment, since I can't find it*, I'll try and answer your query here.
It would be unlikely that the title of a film alone would attract copyright, especially if as you mention, the words are commonplace. On that basis using the title on new artwork which does not replicate any of the characteristics of the original posters would probably not be copyright infringement. However that is not to say that you won't get a cease and desist letter from lawyers representing one of the film companies. Despite having a poor legal case, they may well try to intimidate you into ceasing, and it may be that their financial resources will outweigh yours, even though technically, you have the better case.
And, as you appreciate, you also have consider the other intellectual property aspects: trade marks and passing-off. If the title has been registered as a trade mark, it will almost certainly be in Class 16 which covers printed matter such as posters, so making a claim of trade mark infringement much easier to prove. And the common law tort of passing-off could be used against you even if the title hasn't been registered as trade mark. And with passing-off, the fact that words may be commonplace will be less important than if the complainant can show that the title (through the film itself) has goodwill associated with it - in other words if a typical cinema-goer was asked what she associated with the words 'Batman Begins', the chances are that she will say the Batman film starring Christian Bale. It would therefore be difficult for you to show that your poster bearing the same words would not lead her to conclude that your poster was authorised merchandise associated with the film. In essence, that is what a passing-off claim needs to establish, since the third ingredient - damage suffered by the complainant by loss of sales or reputational damage - is relatively easy to demonstrate.

* Afternote. The thread I was thinking of is here, and if you look towards the bottom another member introduces the idea of 'new' posters using old film titles, but printed on tee shirts as shown on this site.

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2013 8:06 am
by m_d_jones
Hi Andy,

Thanks for your quick and detailed response.

It seems very much like a grey area, so much so I wonder if the only way to find out is to give it a go and see if it ruffles any feathers.

With regards to the goodwill associated with film titles influencing a purchase and therefore my benefiting off the back of using said film. Do you feel that the inclusion of 20 or 30 titles on one single poster would act to dilute any one films strength and therefore give me a stronger footing?

Oh, and the link you posted links to the actual posters in question rather than the thread itself.

But nevertheless what is their situation? I know of many similar artists selling such 'original' prints online (I even have 3 in my living room). I can't imagine they all pay licensing fees, are they flirting with a legal case?

Posted: Wed Aug 28, 2013 8:37 am
by AndyJ
Hi m_d
Firstly thanks for the correction about that link. It should have pointed here - a case of having too many pages open at the same time. I have corrected the original post.
As for your other points, I'm pretty sure that having several film titles on the same poster would largely remove any linkage to any one of individual film and so reinforce the independence of your poster from the goodwill in the original work.
And yes, there is some merit in the 'give it a go' approach. Not all rights owners are so petty as to chase every perceived infringement especially where the scale of the operation is small and no threat to them. But pick your 'targets' carefully. If there are other examples out there which seem to be using particular titles without a problem, then this might a good place to start. But do your best make sure they haven't got a licence to use the title, otherwise they might be the ones who complain rather than the rightsowner.