27

I just stumbled on the new film Bound (2015) and remembered that there was an older film by the Wachowskis also called Bound released in 1996.

I am sure this varies from country to country - but in Hollywood, how long must a new film wait to use the title of an older film?

This of course is for non-franchise films

  • 2
    I don't think it matters. I don't think you can copyright or trademark a title can you? Just the logo. I don't know intellectual law at all so, just a guess – Ben Plont Jan 15 '15 at 17:35
  • If at all, there would be some kind of "moral" limit, or in the interest of the filmmakers, a limit to reduce the chance of confusion. Anyways it can't be longer than two years even for the same movie, since there are two versions of "The girl with the dragon tattoo" from 2009 and 2011 – PlasmaHH Jan 16 '15 at 11:04
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    "The Asylum" film company makes a living off of releasing lower-budget movies with the same title as a blockbuster. One example would be 2010's "Sherlock Holmes". – WEFX Jan 16 '15 at 14:53
  • While The Asylum bears mentioning on this question, this isn't actually an answer. Also, they rarely release a movie with the exact same title, they seem to go out of their way to think of a largely synonymous titles that aren't exact copies (e.g. Android Cop for Robocop). Most exceptions seem to concern public domain characters or stories. – user15995 Jan 16 '15 at 15:07
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    ...but, to take these other examples, both 'Robin Hood' and 'Sherlock Holmes' are names now in the public domain, so not copyrightable (despite Disney's continuos attempts at it) – DA. Jan 16 '15 at 21:50
27

According to this article I found (written in 2010) - individual movie titles can not be copyrighted. However, there can be a trademark granted if there is a certain level of recognition of the title to the specific movie. The author of the article cites "Star Wars" or "Citizen Kane".

Per the linked article, the MPAA has a Title Registration Bureau which also has a standard in place. Participants are notified of conflict; if a raised objection is not settled - the dispute moves to arbitration.

So - to answer your question - for the vast majority of film titles there is no mandatory waiting period. However, producers should not be shocked if there is litigation that arises regardless.

  • Pretty much US law as far as one could go, in that you simply can't own English words, either indivudually or part of something larger. You can trademark things, but you can't own words outright. This is why some companies choose to spell their names in weird ways, like Flickr or Rdio. – MattD Jan 15 '15 at 18:22
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    You can certainly trademark single, common English words, though. Apple, Inc. has several trademarks on the word "apple". – Tanner Swett Jan 16 '15 at 3:11
  • That's particularly interesting given an article I read the other day suggesting that agents acting on behalf of porn movie producers were sending ridiculous takedown notices to Google for GitHub repositories with totally innocuous names that happened to contain some of the same words as the porn movies (e.g. the word "Wicked"). Google was abiding by the requests. The news that movie names cannot be copyrighted at all makes that all the more damning. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 16 '15 at 12:28
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    @TannerSwett Trademark and Copyright are two completely different things though. If you really want to get into it, look up the decades long dispute between Apple the computer company, and Apple the record label. – MattD Jan 16 '15 at 14:53
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit You happen to have a link for that article? – Matt M Jan 16 '15 at 20:39
13

The answer is, they don't.

And I quote:

Literary titles – such as book or movie titles – fall in a gray area in U.S. law. For instance, although a book or movie is protected by copyright, its title isn’t. Copyright simply doesn’t cover titles.

And even if the title is distinctive, such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, courts and the Trademark Office say it can’t be registered as a trademark, even though distinctive words and slogans can be registered as trademarks in other contexts. There’s an exception for series titles, such as Harry Potter, but that’s of no help to single-work titles.

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2005/05/double_trouble.html

http://moviehole.net/201144916same-title-different-movies-stealing-another-movies-title

http://www.andsoitbeginsfilms.com/2013/07/top-15-movies-with-same-title.html

6

You might be interested in the case of the film The Butler which just came out recently.

The film's title was up for a possible rename due to a Motion Picture Association of America claim from Warner Bros., which had inherited from the defunct Lubin Company a now-lost 1916 silent short film with the same name.[9][31] The case was subsequently resolved with the MPAA granting the Weinstein Company permission to add Daniels' name in front of the title, under the condition that his name was "75% the size of The Butler".[32] On July 23, 2013, the distributor unveiled a revised poster, displaying the title as Lee Daniels' The Butler.[33]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Butler#Production

  • Interesting fact! – Charmin Jan 16 '15 at 8:25
3

It seems to me there are often movies of the same title in the same year. IMDb keeps track of them with Roman numerals. Like this:

Action Figures (2011/I)
Action Figures (2011/II)

1

If there is a limit, it's no longer than three months. Two movies titled Nine came out in the second half of 2009. One is an all-CGI animated SF film with "stitchpunks" that look like a grown-up version of Sackboy from the later PS3 game LittleBigPlanet, released in September 2009. The other is an unrelated musical drama directed by Rob Marshall starring Daniel Day-Lewis, released three months later. Both are adaptations of previous works also titled Nine.

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    No, one's titled Nine and the other 9. Seems like totally different titles. – Napoleon Wilson Jan 16 '15 at 11:38

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