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I wanted to use 'Dumbledore' as a part of my pen name. But I was told that by doing so I might, I just might subject myself to suing by J.K. Rowling (if she intends to).

Is that true? Can't I use her character's name?

I would like to know what are the legal limitations for adopting a famous fictional character's name as a part of your pen name?

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    As a side note, you could ask her for permission. – Shahbaz Feb 19 '15 at 10:59
  • Yes.. I was thinking to do so. I will. On Twitter. Or any better ways to contact her for this? Please suggest if any. Thanks. – LearneR Feb 19 '15 at 11:03
  • "Dumbledore" is also apparently slang for "bumblebee"; I don't think she invented the word. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/dumbledore – Lauren Ipsum Feb 19 '15 at 11:14
  • Yeah. But Reddit told me there could be a problem in that case as well: reddit.com/r/writing/comments/2u6096/… – LearneR Feb 19 '15 at 11:26
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    When in doubt, ask a lawyer – CLockeWork Feb 19 '15 at 13:41
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Character names in a book or story cannot be specifically copyrighted, so that in itself is not an issue. Having said that, though, if a character is "fully delineated" and well-defined, then that in itself is enough to warrant that the character himself IS included under the copyright protection of the author, and his name or likeness could not be used without the authors permission. In this particular case, I believe you would have a problem.

Also, many notable authors have taken out Trademarks on their characters, and by doing so they have effectively eliminated the ability of anyone to use those character's names or likenesses. I doubt that this one has been Trademarked, so that wouldn't likely be an issue , but it is definitely something you'd want to research.

The real issue you will face is the fact that the name you are considering using is one that is readily recognizable and belongs to a character that truly is "fully realized". If you intended to use this name in your own writing, you would definitely have an issue, especially if you were describing a character that in any way resembles the original. However, using it as part of a pen name may be considered acceptable, but you'd be running the risk of future issues if the author decides that you shouldn't be using it. This could especially be a problem if your pen name is used while you are writing a fantasy story with wizards and witches, because it could be argued that you are trying to capitalize on the name to draw more attention to your own work.

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IANAL. Technically, it's not a copyright issue, but a trademark issue. You don't have a copyright in one word, like a name.

I recently read a book that has a character named "John". Does that mean no one else is allowed to use the name "John" for characters in their books, or for the names of real children? Obviously not.

But you can have a trademark in a name. Trademark laws can get complicated, and vary from country to country and state to state. Here in Michigan in the United States, the law says that made-up words have the highest trademark protection, ordinary words used in an unusual context less, and descriptive phrases the least. For example, if you call your company "Anabraxmalis", and someone else tries to call their company by the same name, you would almost certainly win a trademark lawsuit. But if you call your company "Main Street Grocery Store", and someone in a nearby town opens a store and uses the same name for a grocery store that is on Main Street in that town, you would almost certainly lose a trademark lawsuit.

I've heard a couple of people say that "Dumbledore" is not actually a made-up word but simply a very obscure one. If J K Rowling did just make it up, she would have grounds for a trademark suit against you if you tried to use it, especially if you tried to use it for anything to do with writing or fantasy. If it's an obscure word, her case would be tougher, but if so it must be very obscure, so she'd probably still have a fair case. Note that, in the U.S. anyway, a trademark does not have to be registered. The fact that someone has used a word or phrase in some commercial context consistently over a period of time gives them rights to it. Registering a trademark strengthens your legal protection, but is not required.

But all that said, Why do you want to use the name of someone else's character as your pen name? I can only imagine two reactions that readers might have to such a pen name: (a) That you are somehow associated with J K Rowling; or (b) That you are trying to fool people into thinking that you are associated with J K Rowling. The first is not true, and the second is not flattering.

I think you would be far better off to create a distinctive image for yourself, rather than to try to "hijack" someone else's character.

  • The reason I want to use "Dumbledore" in my penname is because I'm heavily influenced by that character since my childhood.. I learned a lot of ethical and moral values by growing up with Harry Potter books. In a way Dumbledore character defined my morale.. And in my life I want to be a writer.. So, I thought of using Dumbledore in my penname and incorporate the values I learned from that character into my own stories. In a nutshell, I want to use that name as my tribute to that character. That is all! – LearneR Apr 1 '15 at 1:33
  • Well, I'd just say; I wouldn't. I don't know where you live, but here in the U.S., people who demonstrate extreme devotion to a fictional character are considered very strange and are routinely laughed at. – Jay Apr 1 '15 at 13:31

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