14 December 2016
Protect My Book Title

Amanda Greenslade
I have been asked recently if there is a way, under Australian law, to protect an author's book title, cover design and major headings and concepts in a book plan (book not yet written) to prevent other people stealing their ideas and terms. I will write about this author as "Jan".

Jan has a business in health and life coaching, and is doing something new and unique. She has looked into trademarking the book covers, which will cost thousands, and wants to know if there is a way to register a book title, names of theories, major headings etc.

Jan is aware that writing the book will grant a certain amount of protection in that the idea, then expressed, is copyrighted (without any registration needed). Simply by writing the book and—even better—publishing it, Jan will have a clear and obvious reason to have a lawyer write threatening legal letters to anybody infringing her copyright. She will also be able to put in complaints through Google against any websites publishing her copyrighted material without permission.

Once the book is written, if she can afford to engage lawyers, she may also have recourse to take legal action if her work is plagiarised. However, the author's work is being copied right now, before the book is finished, and she doesn't want to "lose crucial headings", or be "second to the prize".

Jan is concerned that it may be perceived as if she is the one copying others' work, not the other way around. Is there a way this life coach can feel secure that she will be able to keep and use the book title she wants? Does she have to stop teaching this life-changing new material to her own clients, and stop revealing her titles, headings and ideas online, until the book is published?

Jan has a legitimate concern that right now, at the start of her new coaching theory, when people can see her work in person and online, her competitors may steal it. If they realise it's on the right track, can they try to get ahead of Jan by registering names that will block her path to market her own material later? In marketing, it's often the first person in a new category, or that has the best timing, that wins.

Copyright
Jan's material, already expressed in writing and in slides, is already copyrighted to her. So she may already be within her rights to engage a lawyer to write letters to any she knows are infringing her copyright. She needs to keep information about the original expression of the ideas as well as gather evidence of the infringement, including dates and claims of authorship by the infringing parties.

Actually taking someone to court for copyright infringement is expensive and potentially risky, especially if it could be argued that anyone could come up with Jan's supposedly unique expression of her ideas. The ideas themselves cannot be protected.

So, the best protection, during the early stages of conceptualising new theories and preparing to write a book, is to keep them under wraps.

Trademarks
As a publishing consultant, trademarks are not my area of expertise. However, I am aware of the complexity and expense of trademark applications, as I worked for a health products company for a number of years. As a small business owner, I own a trademark in Australia on the words 'Ebook Designer's Touch' in the context of graphic design services. It only cost me a few hundred dollars. But every time you add a new element to the trademark application (such as a new phrase, a new logo, picture or term) or a new territory, the cost multiplies.

If you go through a lawyer that's also when you would expect to spend thousands of dollars on trademark applications.

Book titles cannot even be copyrighted, so trademarking one seems unlikely to me, so that's probably not an option for Jan.

So if you want to protect your brand, because you want to use it as your book title, you should create a business name. This will then give you the right to have that domain on the web with a .com.au also. So, for example, if you want to run a brand within your business called The One True Path to Happiness first register it as a business name. Then purchase www.onetruepath.com.au or something similar. If you're really cautious, register every iteration of the brand as a domain that you can think of and get your webmaster to point (or redirect) all the ones of secondary importance to your main website address.

Trademarks are for conducting business and are limited to protection within your industry, within a particular context.

The above information is opinion only. A copyright and/or trademark attorney would be better equipped to advise you. You might also get some useful tips from your local writers centre and the copyright agencies of Australia like Copyright Agency Limited.

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