Naming a business after a well known movie/character

'Is it legal', 'can I do this' type questions and discussions.
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Naming a business after a well known movie/character

Post by wintlec »

Hi All,

Am I able to name my business after a well known location from a movie? No clue when it comes to copyright and don't fancy spending a fortune on advertising then needing to undo it all!

Any help would be very much appreciated :-)

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Post by AndyJ »

Hi wintlec,

I'm assuming this location is fictional.

If it isn't and it's the name of a real place then there is absolutely no problem at all as far as copyright is concerned, since place names are facts and facts can't be protected with copyright. Also there is very little chance of a real place name being protected by a registered trade mark to the extent that it would prevent you using it in a company title, unless the goods or services your company provides are the same as or similar to one of the classes for which the trade mark has been registered. To take a hypothetical example, let's say the name Wetherby, from the film of the same name, had been registered as a trade mark by Greenpoint Films, in class 16 for printed matter, and your company was called 'Wetherby Calendars' and was in business to produce desk diaries and calendars, then there might be a realistic challenge to your use of the word, on trade mark grounds. The other problem with real place names occurs when the name is a so-called Geographical Indicator. However the limitations on using GIs is limited to the specific product, for instance Melton Mowbray Pork Pies.

So turning back to my assumption that this is a fictional place, such as Hogwarts or Middle Earth. The same problems exist if the name has been registered as trade mark, but of course the GI issue won't arise. As far as copyright is concerned, it is highly unlikely that the UK courts would find a fictional place name on its own qualified for copyright protection, because it would not form a substantial part of the overall work, namely the film. In the USA you could expect a challenge from the film company because some courts there take a fairly bizarre approach to things like this. For instance a court in California has decided that the Batmobile is a 'character' and thus worthy of copyright protection. You may recall this dispute from a few years ago, which although it didn't involve a fictional place name, it was indicative of the sort of nonsense that some American law firms perpetrate on behalf of their clients. Had that issue been tested in the UK courts, a copyright infringement claim would almost certainly have been thrown out. Of course we have no way of knowing how much these stunts are dreamed up for their publicity value.

Incidentally, if you weren't already aware of this, there are various rules about what can be used and registered as a company name: more details here.
Advice or comment provided here is not and does not purport to be legal advice as defined by s.12 of Legal Services Act 2007
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