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I submitted a conference talk based in a movie, with the title being a spin-off of the movie title (applied to a technical domain). I have since discovered that there is already a talk form last year with a very similar title, but even though there is this similarity my abstract and the other author's are completely different (and the topics are not quite the same, even though the domain is similar).

In result of this I got a cease and desist letter from a lawyer over copyright infringement that seems a bit preposterous. Could an accusation like this have any legal grounds?

  • The cease-and-desist pertains only to the title? – feetwet Jun 6 '17 at 22:35
  • @feetwet Yes, apparently it is about the title only, even though some vague concerns that the content is the same are mentioned in the cease and desist letter. But this has absolutely no grounds, as the abstract is completely different and the direction where the talk goes has also no similarities. Only the source of inspiration for the theme and title are the same. – emperorof Jun 6 '17 at 22:46
  • Who sent you the cease and desist? The movie copyright holder, or the other talk author? – Martin Bean Jun 7 '17 at 12:45
  • @ Martin Bean: It was the author of the previous talk, or rather his lawyer, who sent me the cease and desist... I find this situation very puzzling myself... – emperorof Jun 7 '17 at 17:56
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It has as much legal standing as the evidence that supports it. See a lawyer to evaluate your position, obviously. But if the evidence is clear that there is no infringement, then the cease and desist letter doesn't mean much.

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Theoretically, it could, if author A had written their paper and you just mildly re-stated it. Since that is a capital offense in academe, it is highly unlikely that you did that. An author cannot own a topic, he can just own what he said about the topic. More likely this is an attempt to intimidate you into capitulating; you could get a lawyer to write a brief reply.

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One of the defenses you have is "common origin." It seems like both you and another writer produced talks whose title (and perhaps "domain") were inspired by the same movie. In that kind of a situation, the other writer can't sue you for infringement and win; only the movie can. And titles are not "copyrightable," although most content beyond the title is.

My guess is that you are on defendable ground. I am not a lawyer, however, so you need to see a copyright lawyer to define for you where the boundaries are, and whether you have crossed any of them.

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