Life Imitates Life? Two New Books–Same Title

“Old Friends, Old Friends, Sat on their park bench like bookends.” Paul Simon, “Bookends.”

It’s always a welcome event when a gifted writer releases a new work of fiction. Recently, two highly regarded authors–Jill McKorkle and Kate Atkinson– did just that. Atkinson’s book grapples with such themes as birth, death, and reincarnation in a narrative that Entertainment Weekly calls “audacious.” McKorkle’s novel, set in a North Carolina retirement home, focuses on the intersection of life’s end and memories of the past. EW praises it as “vividly voiced.”

Both books share more in common than glowing reviews. They are both titled “LIFE AFTER LIFE.”

Leaving aside the author’s achievements, the coincidence of two new books being released by established publishers under the exact same name raises an obvious question. Surely, two consumer products companies would not simultaneously release a new soap, toothpaste, or cell phone under the same name. So “Wha’ Happened?” (apologies to Fred Willard’s character in Christopher Guest’s folk music parody “A Mighty Wind.)

Companies that make products or offer services can protect their names as trademarks. They can reserve those names by applying for a federal trademark registration. They can search records at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the Internet to see what names have already been taken. And, if they are the first to reserve and use a name, they can block others from copying it.

Book titles, however, are treated differently. Generally speaking, they are not trademarks, but rather, they’re, er, just book titles. Trademarks identify the source of a product, while book titles, er, are just the name given to a book. (The source of the book is the publisher and author.) And while copyright protects the contents of a literary work, copyright protection doesn’t cover the title on the book’s cover.

Sure, if a book has been around for years, sells lots of copies, and becomes well known, its title can earn trademark-esque status. Hard to imagine anyone calling a novel about a hurricane “Gone With The Wind” and getting away with it. Also, the title of a series of books (e.g., The Hunger Games, Goosebumps, Harry Potter, Chicken Soup, For Dummies, etc.) can be registered as a trademark.

But new book titles are pretty defenseless, like, er, the newborn and geriatrics in this tandem of “Life After Life” novels!

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Of course you don’t die. Nobody dies. Death does not exist. you only reach a new level of vision, a new realm of consciousness, a new unknown world.” Henry Miller

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