I would like to use the title of a TV sitcom in the title of my book. How do I find out if this is without legal ramifications?
You likely need to do a trademark search, and see if the title is trademarked.
Go to The USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office).
Select "Basic Word Mark Search", the first option in the list.
For the Search Term, put in your title: For example, "Dead Like Me" (without the quotes).
This is the name of a sci-fi show. You will find it WAS trademarked, the filing date was April 11, 2002, it was registered on March 30, 2004, the Owner (Registrant) was MGM Television. But then the Live/Dead Indicator at the bottom indicates it is DEAD, and the Cancellation Date is October 31, 2014. So you can use it!
Any Trademark that is LIVE you shouldn't use; the words belong to somebody else, and the somebody else can sue you. Typically only unusual combinations of words as titles can be trademarked, but it doesn't hurt to check.
There are 144 books with the word "Seinfeld" in the title. Most are about the TV series, about the creator, or by him or his family. But a few use the name as part of the phrasing and/or to refer back to the show. Examples (some are nonfiction and reference Seinfeld, but are not about the man or the show):
- 101 Classic Jewish Jokes: Jewish Humor from Groucho Marx to Jerry Seinfeld
- Breaking the Booze Habit: using "Seinfeld's Chain" to cut down habitual drinking
- Read This Book With Your Seinfeld Voice: A lil minutiae of everyday life
There are 302 books with the phrase "All in the Family" somehow represented in the title (not always directly). A great number of them are novels (or poetry books) with that exact title. Example 1. Example 2. Example 3.
Here are some more fiction books with sitcom names as part of the title:
- Frankie and the Big Bang Theory
- Lancelot & the Big Bang Theory
- Arrested Development: Example 1. Example 2.
- I love Lucy Pregnant
- Last of the Golden Girls
- The Quest of the Golden Girl
I'm not seeing a problem here. But your publisher will advise you about the title anyway, so it's not an issue if you're going for a traditional publisher. If you're self-publishing, check to see if it's already being used and how.