This is topic Copyright Question in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by philocinemas (Member # 8108) on :
I have been absent from this site, as well as from writing, for quite a while. At some point, I may speak of my recent woes in another forum. For now, let me simply pose a question:

Is the title of a song or the name of a comic book character copyrighted?

Let me expound on this question to state that the title in question is "Freebird". There are already several incarnations of this as a character's name, but it fits very nicely into a character I am developing. I have tried a multitude of other names, but there seems to be a comic character named after every noun, verb, and adjective in both the English and Spanish languages. I can use a combination of words to make my character's name unique, but I really haven't found anything with which I am fully satisfied. Any thoughts?
Posted by Pyre Dynasty (Member # 1947) on :
Comic character names are usually trademarked, which is even stickier than copyright.

As for song names used in a different context I don't think there is any issue. Although when it is an iconic song like that you have quite an uphill battle. You know there are some places where that is played directly after the announcer says "Please rise for the national anthem."
Posted by philocinemas (Member # 8108) on :
My problem with this is that if you Google almost any noun, adjective, or verb and put the word "comic" beside it, you will find one or more existing characters. "Freebird" is already the name of three comic characters. I still might not use the name, even if there isn't a copyright/trademark issue, but I am curious how availability is determined.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
The term Free Bird or Freebird falls in a rare culture place and in terms of intellectual property. It's a Lynyrd Skynyrd song title and as a title thus not subject to U.S. copyright protections. The word or words Freebird or Free Bird, respectively, occurs in the song; however, short phrases of a few common words also are not subject to copyright protections.

If Lynyrd Skynyrd ever thought about trademarking the term, I doubt it would have been allowed, too common words, no iconic or logo value, on the one hand; and the time when they might have legitimately trademarked it has long passed. The term has become a cultural phenomena within the public domain like xerox, though unlike xerox as a common noun and verb, it is not in common dictionaries.

The term is free to use without asking use permission.

Now, due to the term's cultural status and meaning, use of it might mean respecting or at least paying a nod of homage to the cultural phenomena and a meta-referential allusion. Like it's the character's nickname, a metonymy, for his passionate following of the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, the song "Free Bird," or perhaps especially the cultural phenomena. Like he's nicknamed for calling out "Free Bird" at concerts and music revues, maybe at other public culture events, maybe art shows, political rallies, in church.

Does he know that it's passé to call out "Free Bird"? But does so anyway, ironically perhaps. If so, why? What's his purpose? Use the name but try to build a mythology into it and it will be ever more original, artful, fresh, and vigorous.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Well, a perusal of the table of contents of two couple-months-old SF magazines that happen to be next to me reveals at least one title that I know was used by Madonna as an album title (and maybe song title, too---I don't have it.)

I don't know, offhand, of any other stories (SF, fantasy, or whatever) called "Freebird" or "Free Bird." (There's a story called "The Boy Who Cried Freebird"---found through Google. Can't recall reading it, either.)

I'd say go ahead, if it fits the story---and as long as you're not making any other reference to Lynyrd Skynyrd or their song in the story.
Posted by philocinemas (Member # 8108) on :
Thanks to those who responded. I have decided on a different name that is more general and less associative.

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