Skip to main content

Can You Use a Book Title That's Been Used Before?

You've found the perfect title for your book but come to find it's already been used by another author. Can an author copyright a title? Can you still use it?

Searching the Internet, I found a published thriller with the same title I plan to use for my own thriller. Can I still use it, or is that illegal?
—Gilbert G.

Much like names, slogans, and ideas, titles are not protected by U.S. copyright laws (which is why so many books have the same titles). To qualify for copyright protection, a work needs to possess “a significant amount of original expression”—and while “a significant amount of original expression” isn’t fully defined by hard-and-fast rules, the courts have ruled that expressions as short as book titles do not qualify.

(Publishing FAQs for Writers.)

This doesn’t mean that you are free to title your next book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, though. Some titles qualify for trademark protection (specifically, series titles like Chicken Soup for the Soul, Harry Potter, Encyclopedia Brown, etc.). The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office states that a trademark protects words, phrases, symbols or designs identifying the source of the goods or services of one party and distinguishing them from those of others. So once a book becomes successful enough to be considered a recognizable brand, it could be eligible for trademark protection.

Can You Use a Book Title That's Been Used Before? | Brian A. Klems

Think of it this way: If your book is tentatively titled One Moment in Time—a general phrase that really doesn’t separate it from the pack—and another book shares that name, you’ll likely be OK. But if you were planning to title your thriller The Da Vinci Code—a specific title associated with a bestselling series—you’d better make other arrangements.

As for whether or not it’s a good idea to go with a title that’s already been used—and in the same genre, no less—that’s a question best suited for your editor. However, if you have other title ideas that aren’t already in use, I’d recommend considering a change—if only to alleviate confusion in the marketplace down the road.

*****

Outlining Your Novel course

Writers often look upon outlines with fear and trembling. But when properly understood and correctly used, the outline is one of the most powerful weapons in a writer's arsenal.

Click to continue.

Advice on Writing Characters From a Psychologist

Advice on Writing Characters From a Psychologist

Go deeper into the minds of your characters where motivation lives with this advice on writing characters from psychologist and author Rebecca Alexander.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Truth Denial

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Truth Denial

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character (or characters) deny the objective truth.

4 Questions To Ask When Writing Romantic Scenes

4 Questions To Ask When Writing Romantic Scenes

Whether you’re writing a romance novel or simply a romantic moment in your story, M.M. Crane poses 4 questions to ask yourself when writing romantic scenes.

Ben Acker: On Writing Scary Stories for Middle-Grade Readers

Ben Acker: On Writing Scary Stories for Middle-Grade Readers

Ben Acker discusses the joy of reading scary stories growing up that led him to write his new middle-grade horror collection, Stories to Keep You Alive Despite Vampires.

How Freelance Writers Are Using TikTok to Find Success

How Freelance Writers Are Using TikTok to Find Success

TikTok is one of the hotter social media platforms, but it's more than just BookTok. Author C. Hope Clark shares how freelance writers are using TikTok to find success.

Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman: On Trusting Each Other in the Co-Writing Process

Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman: On Trusting Each Other in the Co-Writing Process

Authors Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman discuss the experience of going from friends to writing partner with their new nonfiction book, Courageous Discomfort.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 628

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a reflection poem.

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: The Weight of Blood

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: The Weight of Blood

The editors of Writer’s Digest are proud to announce the next book club selection, The Weight of Blood, by New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson.

5 Tips for Writing a Medical Thriller

5 Tips for Writing a Medical Thriller

There are endless opportunities to build tension in medical thrillers. Here, Dr. Cristina LePort 5 tips for writing a medical thriller from the medical jargon to tying up loose ends.