I'm writing a novel, and I think I've come up with a very good title (The Power of the Powerless). It conveys the moral question of the story well, and gives a good sense of the style of the story. Unfortunately, when I googled the title, it was the same as the title of a political essay written during the Cold War. The title isn't trademarked. Should I keep it or change it?

  • Welcome to the site! I think this is an excellent question; in fact, I was thinking this same thing a few days ago. I've removed the fantasy tag as, while it might pertain to your story, it doesn't really pertain to the general nature of the question. Jan 25, 2016 at 0:34
  • I'm having this exact issue. My "competitor" was published internationally (different genre) in 2000. I'm just planning to drop the word "The." But it's also something a publisher can decide if you are producing commercially.
    – Stu W
    Jan 25, 2016 at 1:38
  • One thing to be aware of: those who know of the earlier work are likely to believe there's a connection intended between your work and Havel's essay. Jan 25, 2016 at 8:49
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    This happens from time to time. I once bought a book from Amazon on the strength of a friend's recommendation, and spent seven chapters thinking that it was very well written, but the author was taking an awfully long time to reveal the magic that my friend had said they enjoyed so much. I then realised that I'd bought an unrelated book that just happened to have the same title, released by a different author the year before (my friend didn't mention the author's name, and it sounded similar from the blurb). Luckily, it was a decent book, so I don't begrudge buying it, even by accident. Jan 25, 2016 at 16:51

6 Answers 6


If you think the title is the best fit for your novel, you should keep it. There are many novels with the same name in the market, which makes it a little hard to find a novel with smaller market presence written by unknown author. Thus why, it is only a problem if the novel you're writing has the same name with another novel written by an author with more market presence than you.

If you're writing a novel and the name is already in use for a political essay, it won't hurt you at all. If you want to be safe, put "[your name]'s Power of the Powerless" as the title. I don't think it's necessary, though.


In this case, there's not likely to be a problem if you give your novel the same title as a Czech essay. You're not trying to confuse anyone, and intelligent people are unlikely to be confused by it.

The protection given to a title is complicated. People sometimes say "You can't protect a title," but this is not true. Some titles can be registered as trademark (particularly the title of a series of books), and even if a book's name is not explicitly trademarked, the copyright owner could still sue someone for publishing a similar title if the intent was to trick the public.

A title like Vengeance is fair game. Calling your book Lord of the Rings will likely get you sued.

This site discusses some of the legal issues, and explains why you shouldn't title your next book "The Great Gatsby".



I worked in bookstores for 10 years and libraries for five. You have no idea how often someone asks for a title that seems unique, but two or even three hits come up. It's even worse when it's a single word title.

I'd check and see what the other book is about. If the subject matter is too similar and its recently published, it might cause confusion. But if the other book is 30 years older and is a totally different book style, the issue isn't too bad. You want the online shopper, bookseller, librarian or shelf browser to easily distinguish your book from the other one.

If a bookseller can ask, "Is it that new romance novel or a 30 year old book about macrame?" Even the most clueless customers can figure out which one they want.

  • Ok, thanks! My novel is going to be a fantasy, fictional novel written in 2016, while the other is a non-fictional, political essay, written during the Cold War (I think...) Jan 25, 2016 at 3:36
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    Oh yeah. If it's that old, I'd be surprised if it were even still in print. If it's not, it won't even show up on Ingram or Baker and Taylor unless the book store subscribes to the out of print subscriptions. Only used bookstores do that. So the old book would be much harder to even find. Also, unless it's a classic, book stores don't usually carry titles that old.
    – Keobooks
    Jan 25, 2016 at 7:06

Titles cannot be copyrighted or trademarked.

Yes, “Star Wars” is trademarked, but not because of the book or movie. It is the toys and other goods that enable the trademark.

So you should go ahead and use your title.


You might have to consult a lawyer, but from my time as a newspaper editor, I recall that (in the 1990s) BOOK TITLES WERE NOT SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT.

So long as you are not "attempting to trade upon the prestige of the earlier work by that title," (or words to that effect) you are okay. That means, in "real language," that so long as your ms. does not materially resemble the previous work, using the same or very similar theme, locations, characters, et. al., there is no "effort to defraud" the first author/publisher.

In any case, do not lose any sleep over it! Continue to use that as your "working title," and write the best ms.of which you are capable! If your publisher has any misgivings about continuing to use your "working title;" well, that's what blue editing markers are for!

You are agonizing over irrelevant details, my friend! If your publisher is worth a fig, there will be an attorney somewhere or other, kept on retainer, expressly for such copyright questions. Just let it go, and continue using your "working title."

The best of luck to you, Tommy! Cheers!


If you're using a title already used before, you should check out how popular that book was. If it was, then you should probably change it. Chances are that it might still be fresh in peoples' memories. Each book title should be as unique as possible. However, if the previous book was not so well known and is deeply buried in the mists of time, then you can go ahead.

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