Jeff Haws is a published author of fast-paced, suspenseful fiction, an award-winning journalist, and an obsessor over words and writing. He's gone from documenting the world around him to creating worlds of his own for him -- and you -- to explore. He's been writing for more than 20 years, from shivering outside at high school football games to walking the halls of the Capitol in DC. … Read More about Welcome
When I was getting ready to publish my first novel, “Killing the Immortals,” last year, I did a good deal of research on the title to make sure there was nothing similar in the marketplace that it would be confused with. I was excited about the title, and wanted to have something unique. Fortunately, there was nothing like it out there, so I plowed forward with it last July.
Suddenly, though, I noticed last week that a Bosnian author self-published a book on June 30 with the title “Killing the Immortal.” So, basically the same title as mine. I don’t publish a book for 37 years, put out my first one, and then somebody essentially rips off my unique title within a year. It was a little bit frustrating.
Interestingly, this actually is a marketing strategy some authors use — and, say what you will about it being cheap — there’s some logic to it. You find a book that’s selling well, then come up with a title for your book that’s close to it — or even exactly the same. The hope then is that people will be searching for that other book, but yours also comes up high in the search. Maybe you get some extra visibility, and perhaps even some sales. It’s possible some people aren’t paying attention and accidentally purchase your book. If the book you’re mimicking gets enough search traffic on Amazon/Google, the odds are actually in your favor to pick off at least some fringe sales from this approach.
Is that what this guy did? I mean, I wouldn’t think so. If he’s thinking my book is getting so much search traffic that he’ll vulture himself into a best seller, he’s gonna be one very disappointed Bosnian. But just because the strategy won’t be particularly effective when applied to me doesn’t mean he isn’t trying it. He has zero reviews after several weeks, so no one’s going to accuse him of being a master book marketing strategist.
So maybe he read somewhere that this is a good, sneaky little strategy, ran across my title somehow, liked it (Who could blame him, really?) and decided he’d ape me. Unfortunately for him (and, I guess, somewhat for me too), while my sales are OK, I don’t have nearly enough of a following to share a percentage of it with some random author trying to leach off me.
Now, you might ask, is there anything you can do? Isn’t that title your intellectual property in the same way your book is? And the answer would be no. Not at all. While a book itself is considered an “original work of authorship” and, thus, is protected under copyright law … hell, why don’t I just let you read the law for yourself?
It’s important to note that copyright law does not protect book titles. If you go to Amazon.com or the online Copyright Office records (www.copyright.gov), you will see countless examples of duplicate titles. Under copyright law, copyright protection only covers “original works of authorship.” To the chagrin of many, the courts and the Copyright Office have made a bright-line policy determination that titles, names (including pen names), short phrases and mere listings of ingredients (as in recipes), no matter how clever, do not possess enough original expression to warrant copyright protection.
So, yeah. There’s nothing I can do … except, I guess, whine on my blog about it. Which I, of course, am quite willing to do. But, beyond that, I can just stare at it and cringe. For Mr. Mladen R.’s sake, I really hope so many people get to love my books that he can scrape off 5% of them and turn that into a big hit for himself. That’d be the best news for both of us. Godspeed, Mladen. Godspeed.