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I want to publish a book, which will be sold at a modest price. I will be self-publishing. I'm in the US.

My book is, by its nature, very specific. It is basically a "how to" guide for how to write in a certain voice. As an example, my book is basically something like,

"How To Write The Simpsons"

  1. My question is, can I legally use this trademark (The Simpsons) in my book title?

  2. If not in the title, what about in my book's pages?

The issue here is that the book is really focused on one show, not one genre, or even sub-genre. So, "How To Write Animated Comedy TV Shows" is not the focus of my book, and thus a somewhat inaccurate title. My book goes into considerable depth into writing for this one show, and exclusively this show.

The book references quotes and dialogue from the show, but other than these bits, it is totally original. In other words, 95% of the text is my original writing. I have really put a lot of time into it, and I am not simply trying to "milk" a brand name for my own gain, and this is obvious to anyone who reads the book.

  1. If I can't use the brand name directly, am I safe if I am cheeky about it? For example, "How To Write For That One Show With Yellow Characters".

  2. Or what if I write on the back of the book or wherever, "Author is not affiliated with The Simpsons whatsoever"? I certainly will make no indication that I am in any way affiliated with The Simpsons (because I am not).

  3. In reality, do the rules still apply if I am not attacking a behemoth like 20th Century Fox and instead am infringing on a much smaller brand? (I'm asking this one out of curiosity.)

I really hope I can use the name in my book title. Otherwise, my target market has pretty much nil chance of finding/reading my book. I know absolutely nothing about trademark law. Please advise.

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20th Century Fox have a trademark on "Simpsons." They have trademarks on "Bart Simpson", on "D'oh", on "Duff Beer". I would assume that they take their trademarks seriously.

What you can't do is to use someone else's trademark to make people believe your commercial product is related to theirs. It's quite reasonable to assume that someone seeing your book in a store would think it is written by the makers of The Simpsons show and therefore buy it. Even if you say that isn't your intention, it is what would happen.

I'd try coming up with some different titles, maybe "How to write animated TV shows" with "Example: The Simpsons" (well, you are the writer so you should come up with something better), and take them to a lawyer. And then contact the makers of the show (again asking the lawyer for advice how to do this) because even if your lawyer says the title is fine, that doesn't mean you can't be sued.

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I'm answering from New Zealand, so my answer may or may not be correct for the US.

Over here, brand names generally do not have copyright. So you could use it in your book. It would be very difficult for authors if they were never allowed to use names of companies in their work.

In terms of using it in the title/ on your book cover, maybe be careful, because they may have a trademark over the image of the words (font, capital letters, etc.), as well as the actual brand name. They could argue also something like you are passing off/ misrepresenting your work as being a product of their company.

It also isn't an issue here about how much of your book is original, it is about whether you have used a substantial part/ the essense of the scripts, etc. So in other words is what you have taken a big/ important part of The Simpsons works.

Here you could use the fair dealing defense, in the US the equivalent (much wider) is fair use. Fair dealing in NZ means you could use parts of someone else's copyright work if it is for comment, criticism, etc.

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