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Are the lyrics "signed, sealed, and delivered" copyrighted? I want to use these words as part of the title of a book to be published and need to know if I can do so.

6

Short phrases like that can't usually be copyrighted. The link is from the US government, but I believe it to be the same for most of the Berne Convention countries. Of course you should consult your local law on this.

In this specific case, there's already a TV show by that name, so they apparently didn't run into trouble either.

If you use the phrase as part of the song, for example if you quote a verse of the song, you'll be in murkier waters. But just a title should be fine.

2

"Signed, sealed, and delivered" is a standard phrase used in everyday life. As such, it cannot be copyrighted.

For something to be copyrighted, it needs to be an original expression of an idea, as opposed to an idea itself. This phrase is too "standard" (and too short) to qualify.

  • The words "apple" and "sky" are also both common everyday life words, but they are copyrighted. What's the difference between them and this phrase here? Maybe the difference is that nobody's gotten around to copywrighting it? I don't know. – DoWhileNot Jul 13 '16 at 19:42
  • @DoWhileNot: "Apple" has a limited copyright in the context of computers., where it represents "original expression." (No other company can use the name "Apple Computer.") The term does not enjoy copyright in its natural context involving fruit (the fruit got there first). Put another way, there is no copyright on "apple," but I believe there IS a copyright on "Apple Computer" (one extra word). Creating a whole company certainly represents "original expression." – Tom Au Jul 13 '16 at 20:03
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    @DoWhileNot: Copyrighted or trademarked? They're not the same thing. – Hutch Jul 13 '16 at 20:31
  • @Hutch - you're right. I was mixing them up... I guess either one can be a problem though. – DoWhileNot Jul 14 '16 at 17:38
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    @DoWhileNot I believe (and I add that I'm not an expert) that trademark infringement would only occur if you started selling knock off hardware with the apple symbol, but just saying the word "apple" in a different context is okay... so I think that the same rules would apply to the phrase in question here as well. Of course, who can buy the most lawyers plays a factor as well :) – Hutch Jul 14 '16 at 19:51
0

I believe that phrase comes from the United States Postal Service...as if to say "I'm as right as the mail." An example I have used is "Games without Frontiers" (in French) as was used in the title sequence of the song by Peter Gabriel. This was an academic work but I was given no grief for it as the expression was considered part of the "public domain" as it related to trying to describe two World Wars. (I used it in the context of the European Union attempting integration.) "Signed, sealed, delivered" sounds like part of the public domain if ever there was one to me.

0

Actually it doesn't even need to be copyrighted to give you trouble.

A copyright is just the formally asserted right to something - a phrase in this case. You can be sued without a copyright, a copyright just makes the suing position stronger.

Just look at the Red Hot Chili Peppers lawsuit against the TV Series Californication (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Californication_(TV_series)#Lawsuit)

So if your book targets the same audience as the song someone might argue the same as the band.

They state in the lawsuit that the series "constitutes a false designation of origin, and has caused and continues to cause a likelihood of confusion, mistake, and deception as to source, sponsorship, affiliation, and/or connection in the minds of the public

Basically assuming your book is successful enough a similar lawsuit could be brought forth. The Californication suit was settled out of court - usually meaning by pay-off - even though there was no copyright.

Though as a legal layman I agree with the other answers that the expression is to common to warrant a suit. On the other hand "too common" may be and indicator to choose something different as a title for your book, but that's another question altogether.

EDIT: To clarify two things:

  • In this case the deception as to source, sponsorship, affiliation could be most likely brought forth, since the TV series could argue for example that the book could be mistaken as an accompanying work regarding that series. Especially if it was from a TV station that regularly has accompanying books to their TV series.
  • Secondly I am not making a qualified assessment about the likelihood that the OP will be sued. I am just pointing out that you don't have to violate a copyright to be sued.
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    Not the same case. The claim that the term Californication was an original coinage of Red Hot Chili Peppers is debatable, as the article on the case shows. Any claim that signed, sealed, and delivered is original to the song, however, is demonstrably and clearly false. The song is, in fact, quoting an already well known phrase, and the lyrics would not make much sense if it was not. – user16226 Jul 12 '16 at 22:49
  • I agree not the same case, but you can still sue due to the connection in the mind of the public thing. Essentially there is cause for civil suits as soon as someone has a legitimate reason to argue one has diminished the value of their product or work. So if the new product is really shitty and drags everything associated with it down there is reason for a civil suit. Same if the new thing is super-successful and replaces the former in the minds of the public. You don't have to infringe on a copyright to give reason for suing is all I wanted to note. – Helmar Jul 13 '16 at 13:47
  • By that argument, Blackberry has grounds to sue Apple into oblivion. IMNAL, but "connection in the mind of the public" seems to be a phrase from trademark law. It is not about casting shade on one product by making a better or worse product. It it about making a cell phone with a logo that is a pomegranate with a bite out of it. – user16226 Jul 13 '16 at 14:31
  • I edited my answer since I think it needed some clarifications. Regarding Blackberry vs Apple, you cannot sue just for losing profit to a competitor. ;) – Helmar Jul 13 '16 at 15:30

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