I'm a wanna-be indie developer, and I am working on my first flash game. But, before I even start with the code, I want to know this: When determining the title of my game, how can I decide if it is copyrighted or not?

For example, at first I thought about "Into the Void" for the title. When I Googled it, I found out that it is a name of a song by Black Sabbath. Is it okay if I use this title, or is it copyright infringement?

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    \$\begingroup\$ IANAL: You don't have to worry about copyright when it comes to titles, unless you're explicitly copying someone else's works, however you do have to worry about trademarks registered by other game developers. \$\endgroup\$ – zzzzBov May 12 '13 at 19:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Byte56 I disagree that this is a duplicate. This question focuses mainly on the game title name, while the question you linked to is more abstract, and focuses on whether the game violates any copyrights or trademarks. \$\endgroup\$ – syb0rg May 14 '13 at 1:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ "name of my game" is in the title of the duplicate, so it sounds like it focuses on the name of game to me. Additionally, it asks about "copyrights or trademarks", same as you cover in your answer. I'm not sure how it's any more abstract than this question, or, if it was more abstract, why it would make this less of a duplicate. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse May 14 '13 at 1:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Byte56 That is the only reference to the name of their game in that question. If you read the entire question, their focus is on how to not infringe on any copyrights or trademarks. I have linked to that question in my answer, since it is relevant. \$\endgroup\$ – syb0rg May 14 '13 at 1:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @syb0rg I still think it's a duplicate. I suppose we'll see if the community agrees via the voting process. \$\endgroup\$ – MichaelHouse May 14 '13 at 3:15

Short answer: you can use that name for your game legally, as long as you abide by the copyright laws and the name is not trademarked.

For the long answer, we refer to Wikipedia:

Copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of works under copyright, infringing the copyright holder's "exclusive rights", such as the right to reproduce, distribute, display or perform the copyrighted work, spread the information contained within copyrighted works, or to make derivative works. It often refers to copying "intellectual property" without written permission from the copyright holder, which is typically a publisher or other business representing or assigned by the work's creator.

If you really want to avoid any confusion or problems that may occur in the future, try contacting Black Sabbath and ask them if you can use that name for your game. If they say "no", then perhaps consider a lawyer, or just come up with a different name. If they say "yes", make sure to keep your paper trail for reference in the future.

Relevent Links:

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Umm, I really don't think I can contact a famous band that easily :D Besides, that would only solve the problem for my current game. I want to learn how to safely pick a name. Thanks for the answer, tho \$\endgroup\$ – LuckyHorseCoin May 12 '13 at 18:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user30604 You can use any name you want, within the bounds of the copyright law; that is what my answer is saying. \$\endgroup\$ – syb0rg May 12 '13 at 18:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, as far as I understand with my limited English, it should mean I can use "Into the Void", because I only take the name, and names cannot be copyrighted. Am I right on that ? \$\endgroup\$ – LuckyHorseCoin May 12 '13 at 18:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user30604 That is true. Look at my updated answer for the link proving this (notice it is a government document). \$\endgroup\$ – syb0rg May 12 '13 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ by definition you can't answer like that, as the answer is specific to one location and the question didn't mention a location. \$\endgroup\$ – jwenting May 14 '13 at 5:57

If you want proper legal advice speak to a lawyer.

However, as far as I know copyright isn't a big issue with titles for games, especially when it clashes with something that's not a game. Trademarks are something you should avoid though.

However if you want people to be able to find your game on a search engine, having a name that hasn't already been used for something well known is probably a good idea, and that should also keep you safe from any legal issues.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So does that mean, as long as I DON'T copy the features of another game, I can use whatever name I want ? \$\endgroup\$ – LuckyHorseCoin May 12 '13 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LuckyHorseCoin: most AAA game names are trademarked, meaning that particular name cannot be used in any context where confusion might occur, i.e. for another game. In general, if you're worried about getting more than a "cease and desist" letter making you change a name, you had better pay a lawyer and do a trademark search. \$\endgroup\$ – Sean Middleditch May 12 '13 at 20:36

The title of a game isn't copyrighted - it is trademarked. Trademark law and copyright law are related but entirely different areas.

While registration of a copyright is optional, a trademark must be registred to be enforceable (there are exceptions, like claiming an unregistred trademark through notoriety, but these are hard to prove in court).

Trademarks registred in the US can be researched on http://tmsearch.uspto.gov/ but keep in mind that trademarks always apply to individual countries. So when you sell a game internationally, you need to make sure that you don't advertise it in any country where the trademark is registred.

Trademarks always apply for specific groups of goods and services. So when I have a trademark "SuperAwesome2000" for toothpaste, kitchen appliances and sportswear, you could still name your game "SuperAwesome2000" without infringing my trademark, because entertainment software is a completely different field. You could even register the trademark yourself, as long as you do it for different product groups than I did. But when you start selling t-shirts advertising your game, we have a problem because you are infringing my trademark on sportswear.

Interesting read in this regard: Apple Corps vs. Apple Computers.

But like in every legal matter: When in doubt consult a lawyer.

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