About Copywriting Ideas and Titles…

…um, yeah…you can’t do that. Let’s say you think up a great idea about a race of inverted bellybuttons whose diabolical plan is to overtake the world, but you never get around to writing it. Then you happen to walk past a bookstore and see a book that SCADS! has your same title and a story about a race of inverted bellybuttons creating havoc on Earth. Guess what? You have no claim over that idea, or the title. None, whatsoever.

The discussion of copyrighting ideas and titles comes up from time to time whenever a flap arises that challenges the patience of those in possession of a brain, and the latest bruhaha is a doozey. It’s over a Scottish cat. The Tobermory Cat, to be more specific. If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not have heard about this incredible story of an artist who lays claim to what, clearly, doesn’t belong to him, but nonetheless has launched a vicious attack against the author and her publisher who produced a book about…you guessed it; The Tobermory Cat. The sordid details can be read in The Guardian article.

The gist is that an artist had been trying to make a go of his paintings and such of this cat. A publisher, who had spent many years visiting Tobermory on the Scottish Isle of Mull, discussed the idea of a children’s book about the small town’s famous little cat with a local bookstore, who encouraged the idea. He went so far as to suggest the publisher and the newly-signed-on author visit the local artist and see about including advertising his paintings at the back of their book. It would be a win win for all parties. Except the painter didn’t agree.

He insisted the publisher and author were infringing on his rights because he was convinced he had made the cat famous via his Facebook page – which he hadn’t – and he would have nothing to do with the publication. Ok, so end of story, right? Wrong. The painter then enlisted the help of all his FB supporters to launch a gynormous smear campaign upon the publisher and the author. The details are horrendous.

Here’s a fact:  For all this artist’s bloviating and simpering, he can’t prevent anyone from writing and publishing a story with a vaguely similar idea, nor can he prevent anyone from using the same title. All one need do is let their fingers do the walking in Amazon, and they’ll see plenty books that have the same title. Sure, it’s a pain in the rumpus, but it’s also perfectly legal. That’s why publishers usually check titles first so they can avoid title confusion.

So what is protected? You can copyright a character in a series. Just try writing a skanky missive involving Mickey and Minnie Mouse, and you’ll have Disney breathing down your collar so fast, your neck will melt because they are trademarked. However, if you write a famous character who happens to be a mouse at a famous make-believe tourist attraction, then you’re on safe ground because there is no copyright violation.

There are specific laws regarding copyright, and before you go off half-baked like this very confused artist, you need to be sure that the law is on your side. Regardless of your feelings as to who is the wronged party, we have laws for a reason, and it’s to protect the innocent from being harangued by the simple-minded and emotionally-charged. The toll on the publisher and author come through very clearly in the article, and even though they are on solid legal ground, I’m sure they wish the idea had never come up. Such is the way of bullies.

A very sad case, indeed, and my heart goes out to the publisher and author.

*For great legal advice for writers (also includes an excellent breakdown of copyright), I suggest picking up a copy of lawyer extraordinaire, Donna Ballman’s book, Writer’s Guide to the Courtroom: Let’s Quill All the Lawyers.

6 Responses to About Copywriting Ideas and Titles…

  1. Digressica says:

    “…we have laws for a reason, and it’s to protect the innocent from being harangued by the simple-minded and emotionally-charged.”

    This, for me, sums up this whole issue. I read the blog post you linked to and had a look at the artist’s various websites and honestly, I think simple-minded is the word here (although that’s obviously speculation and probably a bit unfair). The whole situation is just awful. There’s never an excuse for bullying and harassment.

    I can’t for the life of me remember who said it, but I remember reading something about how working creative people know that ideas are a dime a dozen. I’m always suspicious of anyone who puts a high premium on an idea for a book/film/whatever… it makes me think they very rarely actually *have* ideas of their own. For most creative professionals I know, it’s pretty much a constant trickle.

  2. Laura W says:

    *headdesk* Let us pause for a moment…all of this is over a cat. A CAT.

  3. Novel Girl says:

    I’m 99% sure this is a silly question and 99% sure the answer is no but in case:

    A self-published author doesn’t need to copyright their work before publishing, do they? Copyright is assigned the moment you write the words.

    Thanks in advance 🙂

  4. Kim Kircher says:

    Citing copyright law infringement is an old game. Thanks for the clarification.

  5. You fail to notice that theirs is a derivative work and is not fair use. http://www.artslaw.org/deriv.htm

  6. Angus says:

    As stated in Wikipedia;
    On 25 February 2011, Tobermory artist Angus Stewart created a Facebook page entitled “Tobermory Cat”[9] containing photoshopped images of the ginger cats. As the Facebook page gained popularity the celebrity cat became an “internet sensation”,[2] attracting regional and national press coverage in The Guardian[6] and BBC Scotland’s television news programme Reporting Scotland.[10][11] Stewart’s artistic creation is a photographic composition and narrative centered on a celebrity cat called Tobermory Cat. The work uses photographs of the everyday antics of three cats in a work usually set in Tobermory however Tobermory Cat was seen traveling around the world in Spring 2012. The resulting photographs are described using exaggerated celebrity terms, the premise being that by repeatedly describing a cat as famous it will become famous. The work explores the nature of the construct of celebrity through a fictional cat who is simply “famous for being famous”.[4][12] As part of the creative work, the artist documented the process of creating and promoting his fictional celebrity cat on the Facebook page. In December 2011 a prominent Scottish publisher and a children’s book illustrator visited the artist with a view to producing a series of children’s books about the famous Tobermory Cat. There followed a long running legal dispute centering on creative rights leading to publisher Birlinn challenging the artists trademark “Tobermory Cat” in both the UK and USA. The impact of the dispute became a prominent theme on Stewart’s Tobermory Cat Facebook page.

    Tobermory Cat is now a registered UK trademark held by Angus Stewart. The dispute over the rights and attribution of the work was covered in the media during November 2012 and remains contested.[1][6][10][11


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