Can ship names be copyrighted?

Discussion in 'Science Fiction & Fantasy' started by Mr. Laser Beam, Jul 17, 2014.

  1. Mr. Laser Beam

    Mr. Laser Beam Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    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?
     
  2. Admiral2

    Admiral2 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  3. Candlelight

    Candlelight Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  4. Mr. Laser Beam

    Mr. Laser Beam Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    ^ 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.
     
  5. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    I don't think you can copyright a name, but you might be able to get it trademarked.
     
  6. Candlelight

    Candlelight Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  7. C.E. Evans

    C.E. Evans Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  8. sojourner

    sojourner Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  9. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Vice Admiral Admiral

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    This. There is a difference between trademark and copyright.
     
  10. Australis

    Australis Writer Admiral

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    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.
     
  11. The Old Mixer

    The Old Mixer Clean Old Mod Moderator

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  12. The Wormhole

    The Wormhole Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  13. Mr. Laser Beam

    Mr. Laser Beam Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I'm still trying to work this out. :alienblush: :D
     
  14. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Vice Admiral Admiral

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    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.
     
  15. Gaith

    Gaith Vice Admiral Admiral

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    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.


    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?
     
  16. Professor Zoom

    Professor Zoom Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I don't know if that's grey or murky. And something for the court to decide.

    Copyright gets even more confusing because different countries have different rules. I think Holmes is in the public domain here, but, I'm not sure about the UK.

    Here's an interesting article.

    The court says SOME elements are in the public domain (anything from pre 1923 stories), AND, interestingly... the case was about copyright, not trademark...

    Though, I still wouldn't rush out to publish my Holmes Watson slash fiction.
     
  17. Klaus

    Klaus Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I believe that "Starship Enterprise" is what they have copyrighted...