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Are TV episode titles copyrighted??

San Leandro, CA |

I wanted to start a blog using the title of a specific TV episode from a tv series that ran in the 2000's. Are individual tv episode titles copyrighted?

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Attorney answers 3


Names, titles, and short phrases or expressions are not subject to copyright protection. Even if a name, title, or short phrase is novel or distinctive or if it lends itself to a play on words, it cannot be protected by copyright.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick


But trademarks and servicemarks, that's a whole other matter. And such rights likely makes that "green light" into a "red light" or at least a "caution light".


Alan is right that copyright law does not protect a name. However, many if not most TV series are registered trademarked. Even if not registered, they are subject to common-law rights. I would suggest you talk with an IP lawyer before proceeding too far.


Q:"Are individual tv episode titles copyrighted?"
A: Wrong question. The right question is are they TRADEMARKS or SERVICEMARKS? And, the answer is that no, they seldom are. Yet, you are not safe. While the title of a single show would not show an intent to continue to use in commerce (a prerequisite for trademark or servicemark protetction), the title of a series is inherently intended for continued use in commerce and can be the subject of a servicemark for entertainment services in the nature of a continuing TV series.

Q:"Are individual tv episode titles copyrighted?"
A: Seldom do titles have the necessary level of creativity to be accorded copyright protection under 17 USC 102.

This has been asked and answered directly of indirectly over a hundred times here on Avvo. See a link to the prior answers and legal guides below. You can find all you need to know by reviewing them.

I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.

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