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Science Fiction & Fantasy Farscape, Babylon 5, Star Wars, Firefly, vampires, genre books and film.

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Old July 17 2014, 09:24 PM   #1
George Steinbrenner
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Can ship names be copyrighted?

Obviously the fictional use of the very specific phrase "USS Enterprise" is copyrighted by Paramount, and no other show can use it. That's not in question.

But what if it's something else? Babylon 5, for example, has all its ships (Earth ones, anyway) marked with EAS. So if B5 had somehow wanted to introduce an EAS Enterprise, they could have done that, right? EAS isn't USS. Nor is USAF, which as I understand it is what the Earth ships in Stargate SG-1 use (since they are all operated by the Air Force). But there is one line in SG-1 when somebody says "Sir, we can't call it the Enterprise". So why not? Does this only apply to the show's own "universe"?

The copyright involves only the term USS Enterprise, isn't that right? So given this, I don't see how B5 could have been kept from having an EAS Enterprise, or SG-1 having a USAF Enterprise, or, hell, Firefly with an IAV Enterprise.

About the only thing I can think of is that even if those shows COULD have done it, they deliberately chose not to, so as to avoid stepping on Trek's proverbial toes (although since FF actually went out of its way TO do that, I'd half expected them to actually HAVE an IAV Enterprise just to stick it to the Trekkies). Makes sense, doesn't it?
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Old July 17 2014, 09:34 PM   #2
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

Mr. Laser Beam wrote: View Post
Obviously the fictional use of the very specific phrase "USS Enterprise" is copyrighted by Paramount, and no other show can use it. That's not in question.

But what if it's something else? Babylon 5, for example, has all its ships (Earth ones, anyway) marked with EAS. So if B5 had somehow wanted to introduce an EAS Enterprise, they could have done that, right? EAS isn't USS. Nor is USAF, which as I understand it is what the Earth ships in Stargate SG-1 use (since they are all operated by the Air Force). But there is one line in SG-1 when somebody says "Sir, we can't call it the Enterprise". So why not? Does this only apply to the show's own "universe"?

The copyright involves only the term USS Enterprise, isn't that right? So given this, I don't see how B5 could have been kept from having an EAS Enterprise, or SG-1 having a USAF Enterprise, or, hell, Firefly with an IAV Enterprise.

About the only thing I can think of is that even if those shows COULD have done it, they deliberately chose not to, so as to avoid stepping on Trek's proverbial toes. Makes sense, doesn't it?
Yes.

Enterprise is a name used for several real-life ships throughout history, so that much public use means it can't be copyrighted. Even USS Enterprise has been used in real life by the US Navy more than once so copyrighting the whole phrase is iffy. The only thing that Paramount could truly claim as unique is the definition of USS (either "United SPACE Ship" or "United STAR Ship"), which only means you can change the prefix to whatever is unique to the universe you're creating.
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Old July 17 2014, 09:40 PM   #3
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

The Tardis from Dr Who is a registered trademark of the BBC, who received the patent in 2002. I doubt you'd be able to use that anywhere else.
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Old July 17 2014, 09:40 PM   #4
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

^ Well, to be fair, the TARDIS is unique to DW and could never appear on any other show, so there'd be no danger of it. But most other sci-fi has a human fleet of ships with many names so the odds are that at least one or two of them does have an Enterprise.

Actually, I still wonder what some of those other shows could have done with an Enterprise, even if it would be only a guest shot. What would B5's EAS Enterprise be? One of those Explorer-class ships that are so rare? That would seem to fit the name.
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Old July 17 2014, 09:45 PM   #5
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

I don't think you can copyright a name, but you might be able to get it trademarked.
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Old July 17 2014, 10:11 PM   #6
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

I guess there's some degree of leeway allowed; Babylon 5 and Star Trek Voyager both had characters called Valen. Granted it's just a name but it was a fairly major-yet-minor character on B5.
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Old July 17 2014, 10:12 PM   #7
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

I think that both the terms "USS Enterprise" and "Starship Enterprise" were trademarked, and the only problem may occur when someone tries to use them as actual IPs. A challenge could be made even if someone tries to be derivative of them like "IAV Enterprise" or "Spaceship Enterprise."

IIRC, this doesn't pertain to real Enterprises like CV-6, CVN-65, OV-101, and the upcoming CVN-80, just fictional spaceship ones.
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Old July 17 2014, 11:10 PM   #8
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

Yep, anyone can use the name "USS Enterprise". That can't be copyrighted. But, if you name a spaceship in your work of fiction the "USS Enterprise" it may be determined to be trademark infringement if it meets too many criteria.
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Old July 17 2014, 11:47 PM   #9
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

sojourner wrote: View Post
I don't think you can copyright a name, but you might be able to get it trademarked.
This. There is a difference between trademark and copyright.
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Old July 18 2014, 01:27 AM   #10
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

I wouldn't use Enterprise as a ship name - even though it is valid to use, it has too many associations with entertainment & real world ships. Endeavour, OTOH, has possibilities.
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Old July 18 2014, 01:41 AM   #11
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

Australis wrote: View Post
Endeavour, OTOH, has possibilities.
Back when it was fashionable to imitate Star Wars while throwing a little Trek into the mix, somebody thought so:

http://beyondheroes3.tripod.com/microstarships.htm
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Old July 18 2014, 01:55 AM   #12
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

Candlelight wrote: View Post
The Tardis from Dr Who is a registered trademark of the BBC, who received the patent in 2002. I doubt you'd be able to use that anywhere else.
Not only that, but BBC also owns the copyright on the police box design. When British police wanted to bring police boxes back, they were required to redesign them or pay royalties to the BBC.
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Old July 18 2014, 02:00 AM   #13
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

Professor Zoom wrote: View Post
sojourner wrote: View Post
I don't think you can copyright a name, but you might be able to get it trademarked.
This. There is a difference between trademark and copyright.
I'm still trying to work this out.
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Old July 18 2014, 02:52 AM   #14
Professor Zoom
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

Mr. Laser Beam wrote: View Post
Professor Zoom wrote: View Post
sojourner wrote: View Post
I don't think you can copyright a name, but you might be able to get it trademarked.
This. There is a difference between trademark and copyright.
I'm still trying to work this out.
Google is your friend.

Basically, a novel would be copyrighted. The cover would be trademarked. For example, Harry Potter is trademarked, but the text itself--because it's an expression in a fixed for, is copyrighted.

So, you COULD name your novel Harry Potter and the Big Poo, and not have violated copyright--because titles aren't copyrightable. However, you would have violated trademark and you would be sued.

Trademark is used as a way for a company to protect their identity--for a lack of a better term. Their brand. Like Xerox. That's a trademark. Or the golden arches for McDonalds.

Trademark is forever, as long as you defend it
Copyright is for a limited time, until Disney decides they want it longer, and start paying some congressmen to change the law. Again.
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Old July 18 2014, 04:18 AM   #15
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Re: Can ship names be copyrighted?

sojourner wrote: View Post
But, if you name a spaceship in your work of fiction the "USS Enterprise" it may be determined to be trademark infringement if it meets too many criteria.
Yeah, it's a question of context. An offhand mention one could almost certainly get away with in any scenario. Spend actual screen time on an Enterprise, and things get murkier.

As for the Stargate quote, maybe the Navy has a monopoly on the name Enterprise within the US military, meaning that the Air Force couldn't use it? But the RL explanation is most probably just a shout-out.


Professor Zoom wrote: View Post
Trademark is forever, as long as you defend it Copyright is for a limited time, until Disney decides they want it longer, and start paying some congressmen to change the law. Again.
Generally yes, but there's some shades of gray. If Sherlock Holmes stories have fallen out of copyright, and the character is in the public domain (a matter of ongoing litigation), how much of the Doyle Estate's trademark on Holmes still has teeth?
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