Skip to main content

Can anyone write a book about a television show (an unauthorized take), & use the name of the show in the book / title?

Burlington, VT |

We will be doing all of our own art work, so no logos / imagery from the show will be used. Just referencing the show, specific episodes, etc. and using the name of the show in the book title.

Attorney Answers 4

  1. Maybe. Copyright law allows users a "fair use" right to comment on an original work, or in this case, many episodes of a TV show, as long as they come out on the winning end of the 4 fair use factors. Those 4 factors are:

    1.the purpose and character of your use
    2.the nature of the copyrighted work
    3.the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
    4.the effect of the use upon the potential market.

    #4 is the most important factor, because it's the direct impact on the market for the original that pushes judges over the edge, and it's related to #1 and #3, since if your use is academic and scholarly, your use will necessarily be shorter than if your work copies more of the original work so you can sell it to the same fans who might otherwise buy the DVD set of past seasons.

    Realize that "fair use" is a DEFENSE to a charge of copyright infringement. If you need it, that means you also need a lawyer to defend you, because you've been sued in federal court. Better to see a lawyer BEFORE you publish any book, since any publishing contract will require you to warrant that you're not infringing anyone else's contract, copyright, trademark, privacy, publiciy, or other rights, and you should do what you can to avoid suit in the 1st place.

    As long as you don't use the shows logos or images, or any images or names of the actors to market the book, you'll be steering clear of trademark and publicity rights and character issues, but again, these are things for your own entertainment lawyer to "vet."

    I'm only licensed in CA. Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

  2. You might be able to write a book about television show and use the name in the book title, but there are many complicated and sophisiticated intellectual property law issues that would need to be addressed before writing and publishing this book. One of the main issues will be whether the fair use doctrine provides a defense against a claim that might be brought against you and the publisher for copyright infringement. The fair use doctrine is widely misunderstood---it is a relatively narrow doctrine for purposes of encouraging academic, educational and journalistic discourse and criticism. However, if your primary purpose in writing the book is commercial, and/or if you intend to summarize storylines and/or create a work that could not be considered academic, educational or journalistic, the fair use doctrine might not help you. If your book has a tendency to reduce the market value of the television show or divert consumers who would purchase your book rather than DVD's of the show, itself, the fair use doctrine also might not suffice to protect you.

    There are other potential problems. If you use phrases or titles protected by trademark law, your use might be construed as confusing consumers into believing that your book is associated with, or endorsed by the show. If your use of a trademark creates consumer confusion, you might be accused of trademark infringement. Alternatively, if you use phrases or titles protected by trademark law in a disparaging or misleading manner, you could be accused of diluting or tarnishing the value of the trademark. Further, if you use photographs of actors/characters who appeared in the show, you would likely need permission to use such photographs---otherwise you might violate the copyright in the photographs and the rights of publicity of the people who appear in them.

    Notwithstanding these problems. there are many viable books published every year that legitimately chronicle television programs from a critical, academic, historical or journalistic perspective. You should not be discouraged from pursuing a legitimate project by the constraints imposed by intellectual property law---rather, you need to recognize the problem and work with your publisher and intellectual property counsel to mitigate any risks that you might face if you violate intellectual property rights held by others.

  3. The answer is --- without any ambiguity or reliance on copyright fair use law or any other intellectual property doctrine --- is, of course you can.

    The title of a television show, and its episodes, are non-copyrightable NAMES.

    The television show title is also a trademark. But a trademark owner CANNOT stop others from using the trademark to discuss the product branded with the trademark. Normal folks cite the First Amendment when stating this rule. Trademark folks nod to the First Amendment on their way to citing the "nominative" or "referential" use doctrine when stating this rule.

  4. I believe your question has been pretty well answered, with the one addition that it is important that you not give the impression that yours is an officially authorized or endorsed book. So long as your book is just commentary, and doesn't have an "official backstage insight" type undertone, then you should be fine.