From books to apps – Title Protection, a German specialty

Margret Knitter LL.M.Partner, SKW Schwarz Rechtsanwälte

Author: Martin Matzner, LL.M

The German protection of work titles is hardly known. This is also due to the fact that such protection does not exist in many other countries. Still, Title Protection offers a good and simple way to secure rights to designations – and has for quite some time now played an important role in the digital sector as well.

What can I protect with Title Protection?

Originally, Title Protection was intended for book and movie titles. Imitators were not supposed to distribute books and movies under the same title, which consumers would then accidentally buy, erroneously thinking that they bought the original.

In the meantime, however, Title Protection extends to a much wider field. It includes designations for recurring events such as the “Rock am Ring” festival or TV shows such as the “Tagesschau” news report, as well as newspapers and magazines, but also board games or trade fairs.

In the digital world, Title Protection covers not only names for blogs, but also for software, computer games, apps, or Internet presence (i.e., domains).

To be protected, the title must be sufficiently distinctive and not merely descriptive of the work. The requirements are lower than for trademarks, however, so that in individual cases a title such as “Pizza & Pasta” for cookbooks may be sufficient.

How far does Title Protection extend?

Work titles are initially protected against other, confusing titles. It must be taken into account whether the other title belongs to the same or a similar type of work, e.g., whether it is a book title. Depending on the distinctiveness of the protected title, however, protected titles may also prevail against titles of other types of works.

In certain cases, Title Protection may also exist against later trademarks or company logos. In such cases, protection is then limited to goods and services within the scope of the title.

For even better protection of your title, a supplementary trademark application may therefore be useful, which also allows protection in other countries.

Do I have to register my work title?

No, Title Protection already comes into existence by using the work with the title, for instance by publishing a book. Unlike trademarks, titles of works do not have to be deposited in a register for protection to arise.

Under certain circumstances, it may be useful to place what is referred to as a title protection notice on a special title protection portal to declare in advance that you intend to use the relevant title. Title Protection starts with the publication of the notice if the title is actually used for a finished work within a reasonable time afterwards. This assists title holders to defend against free riders, if a movie production, for example, takes a long time.

How long is Title Protection valid?

In principle, Title Protection is unlimited in time, even after the copyright on the work has expired. The protection ends, however, with the final desist from the use of the work.

This must be distinguished from the situation prior to publication of the work when repeated notices for Title Protection are filed. Additional notices may be filed after the initial deposit, for example if the publication of a work is delayed. In general, however, protection will then commence retroactively with the most recent notice and not with the original, oldest title protection notice.