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I want to use song titles for my comic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2021 2:32 am
by UmbrellaScan
I want to use song titles from bands like AKB48, Sakurazaka46, and their sister groups as chapter names for a comic I'm writing. An example title is "僕たちは戦わない" (We don't fight), which probably easier to get away with. But others are more distinct like "制服のマネキン" (Uniformed Mannequin). Most titles are random words like "Concentration" and "Sustainable".

I live in the USA, but I plan on introducing my works in Japan too. I'm independent, so I won't be making any money for my work.

Re: I want to use song titles for my comic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2021 7:55 am
by AndyJ
Hi UmbrellaScan,

The applicable law is obviously that of the USA and that law (the Copyright Act 1976) excludes titles, names, short phrases, and slogans from protection by copyright (see page 2 of this US Copyright Office Circular). This applies irrespective of the country of origin of the words etc concerned. And even if that fact alone was not enough to allow you to use these song titles in the way you describe, the US doctrine of Fair Use would almost certainly permit it as well since you would not be causing any economic harm to the original authors or their works.

Japanese copyright law does not specifically address the issue of protection of titles and names etc. Although I know very little about the way their copyright law is implemented, I would be surprised if, pragmatically speaking, the courts there chose to recognise such minor items as worthy of protection. But even assuming that they would consider single words such as names or short phrases as protectable, the law does allow for the quotation of short extracts of the works of others. Generally speaking the Japanese approach is closer to the UK doctrine of Fair Dealing rather than the US Fair Use. This means that the amount quoted must not be more than is strictly necessary for the purpose. This is set out in Article 32(1) of the Japanese Copyright Act (Act No. 48 of May 6, 1970, as amended 2020)
Article 32 (1) It is permissible to quote and thereby exploit a work that has been made public. In such a case, the work must be quoted consistent with fair practices and within a scope that is justified for the purpose of news reporting, critique, study, or other place in which the work is quoted.
(source: Machine translation provided by WIPO)
On that basis, I don't think you would face any additional problems by publishing your comic stories in Japan. However I know very little about Japanese copyright law in practice and so you might want to get a more qualified person to confirm that opinion.