Wednesday, October 12, 2011

COPYRIGHT IN BOOK TITLES

There is of course no copyright in book titles and anyone is free to write a book and call it Ulysses or The Cat in the Hat or The Quiet American and nothing could be done about their decision to use such a title.
Publishers however tend to strenuously avoid publishing books with a title that has already been used. Occasionally however books will be published almost simultaneously with the same or very similar titles and I recall this happening once or twice years ago in my bookselling days.

It was something of a surprise then to many in the book trade, including several booksellers who contacted me, when Harper Collins NZ last week published Place Names of New Zealand as a book with that same name was published by Penguin Books NZ last year.
The Penguin title is  the famous AH & AW Reed publication which was first published in 1975 and updated over three editions since, and it is still in print.

The books are hugely different in content with the Penguin title running to over 500 pages and containing 
  • contains alphabetical entries for over 10,000 places in New Zealand;
  • explains the origin and meaning of the place names (including competing versions);
  • locates places by regions and indicates distances from nearest major localities;
  • incorporates place names in both Maori and English, and gives the original Maori names for many places renamed during the colonial period;
  • is updated to incorporate latest official names;
  • includes an appendix of over 2000 superseded place names. 
The Harper Collins title runs to a mere 136 pages and contains short pieces on the derivation of place names. It has an rrp of $24.99 while the Peter Dowling-revised Penguin title is $45 and one would have to say is a vastly superior book and represents much better value.

The surprising thing about all this though is that Harper Collins elected to use a title already in existence which surely they must have known about? As stated above there is no copyright in titles so there is no legal  issue here but what on earth were they thinking about using for their book the title from such a famous and high profile existing book that has been around for over 35 years? Beats me. Younger book trade staffers would probably say - duh? 

1 comment:

transpressnz said...

It would have been easy enough for HarperCollins to call their one "New Zealand Placenames". Maybe HarperCollins are hoping that when some ignorant young store clerk makes a "special order" for someone wanting the Penguin title, their one will get ordered instead?