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Author Topic: Can you copyright a name - any name?  (Read 3944 times)

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Matthew S.

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Can you copyright a name - any name?
« on: January 29, 2007, 07:09:19 PM »

Okay... to make a short story long I've been having a discussion with someone who says you can copyright a person's name.  I say no.  I say I can write a piece of fiction and make my character Rush Limbaugh if I wanted to as long as I emphasized that it wasn't THE Rush Limbaugh, or George W. Bush or the CEO of a large corporation.  I could even use the real person as themselves in my fiction and there's nothing they can do about it ("I met Mr. Limbaugh while eating lunch at a corner diner.  He was quite a quy.")  He says they have the rights to their name and can sue.  I say there is no right to a name - I myself know of at least one other Matthew Schoonover (who apparently is wanted for questioning in Alabama or somewhere in connection with a bank robbery).  I say that I can register a domain name under any one of these names provided it isn't already taken, making the ownership of the name mine on the internet - and what can they sue me for if I don't say anything bad about my characters.  And if I do say anything bad about my characters they maybe - maybe - could sue for libel, but they would then have to prove that my writing caused them to lose money.

Anyone care to comment or elucidate?

Matthew S.
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Elena

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2007, 07:50:46 PM »

To my knowledge you cannot copyright any proper noun; person, product, or thing.  You can protect a name by filing it as a trademark - but that is the only protection I know of.

That said - there are different laws for names in the public 'view' and private names.  The useage of names in the public view is much more liberal.  If you are a public figure it is much much harder to sue someone for slander or libel.  (The difference is that slander is spoken and libel is written, but both cause the person harm.)  If you are a public political figure it gets even harder.

BUT if someone spread damaging misinformation about you or me we could sue their socks off.

My belief is that you are partly correct about the domain bit on the internet.  The part that I think is off is that you have to prove they lost money due to your libel.  That is one possibility, but I don't believe it is that limited.  They might be able to prove, for example, malicious mischief, or cause to do harm to their reputation.  Generally, public figures don't respond at all unless someone is putting out false and damaging statements that are causing harm.

Elena
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Leon

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2007, 09:40:57 PM »

From the copyright office obtain a copy of Title 17. It is often refered to as the bible of copyrights.

Leon
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Bob Mueller

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2007, 11:36:40 PM »

Your big issue on the domain name is not libel, but "cyber-squatting." If Rush Limbaugh can show that you're making money off of people thinking it's his site, and you're doing nothing to deter people from thinking they've gotten Rush's site, and you're refusing a reasonable offer to sell the domain, it might be taken from you.

Rush would have to file an action with ICANN, and it would take a while, but if he won, you'd be out the domain, your attorney fees, and his.
 
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Elena

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2007, 12:09:26 AM »

Quote
If Rush Limbaugh can show that you're making money

Bob, who would Rush have to demonstrate this too?  Is 'cyber-squatting' a federal (FCC) offense?  It sounds to me as if the money angle makes it fraud.  But, again, who would have jurisdiction in a fraud suit?  ICANN being a private agency would not have binding judiciary privileges.

Very interesting that he would have to first offer to buy your domain.  My mysterious mind is trying to come up with a use for that tidbit.

Of course if someone were making money this way I would suspect the IRS might be interested too.  The mind boggles and I'm staying up way too late playing with this tempting idea  :D
Elena
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Peg H

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2007, 12:26:50 AM »

The link to the US copyright laws:

http://www.copyright.gov/title17/

Peg H
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #6 on: January 30, 2007, 01:58:36 AM »

Matthew,

I'm certainly no copyright expert, but I think you're right.

Even a name that's been trade-marked can be used if it doesn't infringe on the rights of the trademark owner.

I recall that Len Deighton wrote a novel in which there was a character named Michael "Mickey" Morse.  Not surprisingly, he's nicknamed "Mickey Mouse."  No company is more zealous about protecting its trademarks than Disney, yet this novel was published without protest.  If memory serves, "Mickey Mouse" was actually part of the title.

In a dandy Hong Kong-set police procedural by Owen Sela called The Bengali Inheritance the main cop is Detective Inspector Richard Chan, whose English partner calls him "Charlie."   Again, the heirs of Earl Derr Biggers did not object to the protagonist being nicknamed "Charlie" Chan.

Turning to real-life figures, in The Pusher, an early 87th Precinct novel by Ed McBain, there's a walk-on character named "Ernest Hemingway."  One of the Eight-Seven's detectives thinks the suspect is trying to be smart when he claims that's his name, and belts him.  Turns out it really is the kid's name and, moreover, he had no idea there was a famous writer with the same monicker.

Michele Viney

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2007, 08:00:54 AM »

I myself know of at least one other Matthew Schoonover (who apparently is wanted for questioning in Alabama or somewhere in connection with a bank robbery). 
Matthew S.

That is why when the news is reporting about a person in connection with a crime they give specific details like age and (if possible) address. There was a case about ten years ago in Belfast where a son was caught for a terrorist crime but one of the news reports didn't give his age. The man's father had the same name and lived at the same address. There was hell to pay, but I think the radio station just had to apologise - I don't think there was any law suit.

Michele
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Matthew S.

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2007, 07:39:06 PM »

Thanks guys.  This was way more info than I expected - especially the copyright info! 

Just to recap: I wasn't saying I could use Rush's name with impunity, and of course, I doubt a respectable publisher would published with impunity, but he can't sue me for just using his name - I have to do something with it.  Question:  If I registered all the domain names with Rush's name in them and then didn't do anything with them, ie, didn't make money or anything with them (just offered to sell them to Rush), would that still constitute a breach of ICANN? 

Matthew S.
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Elena

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2007, 10:27:52 PM »

No suing involved Matthew.  If you buy a domain name and just hang onto it what you are doing is speculating that the name will become wanted and be brought from you for a profit.  You jiggled my mind and I remember reading an article about doing just that - speculators trotting out and buying domain names of products and companies or common misspelling of same and then selling them when the companies involved realized they wanted to own all varients of their names.

It seems to me that what Bob said about having to make a reasonable offer to buy as the first step would apply to any person or company.

Though I suspect that was a very narrow window of opportunity as companies became more sophisticated about their internet presence.

In reference to Jim's comments - there is a difference between Mickey Mouse which is a trademark because it is the name of a product, and the proper names of Charlie Chan and Ernest Hemingway.  Disney could have sued if they had wanted to - but there are no legal restrictions on using the other two names.  A trademark is the name/identification of a product which is why it can be protected.

Elena
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JIM DOHERTY

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2007, 11:02:24 PM »

Elena,

Re your comment below:

In reference to Jim's comments - there is a difference between Mickey Mouse which is a trademark because it is the name of a product, and the proper names of Charlie Chan and Ernest Hemingway.  Disney could have sued if they had wanted to - but there are no legal restrictions on using the other two names.  A trademark is the name/identification of a product which is why it can be protected.

I understand that there is a difference between a trade-marked name like "Mickey Mouse" and a character in a copyrighted work like Charlie Chan or a real-life figure like Ernest Hemingway.

However, given the zealousness with which Disney guards, and always has guarded, its trademarks, I suspect that if they could have sued Deighton, they would have. Since they didn't, I concluded, as a non-lawyer, that there must have been something in the manner in which Deighton used it ("fair-use" or something) that made it non-actionable.

Alen91kane

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Re: Can you copyright a name - any name?
« Reply #11 on: September 04, 2017, 08:17:44 AM »

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