I don't want to use my own name when publishing my book - my pseudonym is the name of a German actress. Is it ok to use it? It's not a common name, but my book is in English, and the actress is German, so I doubt that she is very well known in the English-speaking world. Where do I check if the name is trademarked?
Lots of people have the same name, but obviously if you published a fantasy novel under the pen name "Daniel Radcliffe" you'd be asking for all kinds of legal trouble. You're better off using a common name (or truly unique one) or else getting the advice of a lawyer who could read some of your work and research the actress to be sure she's not known for something similar that might confuse people. If you're using the actress' name because you're known by that online and like being associated with her, again you're asking for trouble.
The answer to your question is likely to depend on the jurisdiction. In the US, courts have gotten involved in child name disputes. I am not a lawyer, and don't know the state-by-state written or case law that would apply.
It would seem important to consider how much your pen name and the actress's name might be confused. Neither of you benefits from confusion. It just becomes a mess. If you are lucky, it remains a small enough mess that she wouldn't bother taking any action against you.
I think she could sue you.
I'm not a lawyer, I don't know German, nor the specifics of German law, but I was able to find something in the page about "personal rights". In particular, the section on "self-expression" (Selbstdarstellung). Machine translation is below:
The right to self-expression ensures that individuals can determine how they present themselves in public. It therefore protects him from unwanted, falsified or defamatory representation by third parties.
[...] the right to self-expression results in the right to determine whether one's own name should be published or publicly mentioned
Individual areas of personal rights are particularly protected by law [...] the name ( § 12 BGB) [...]
A violation of general personality rights, in particular through media reports or in the case of abusive criticism , can result in a claim for damages (Section 823 (1) BGB in conjunction with general personality rights as an "other right") or an injunctive relief or right to correction (§ 1004 BGB).
I don't think it can even be allowed under "fair use".
On one hand, I can't see any economic damages stemming from this. And non-material damages can be compensated only in serious cases. So you'd most likely be hit with a cease and desist, or an injunction to stop the publication and distribution until change your name.
You might be able to argue a sort of "fair use", something along the lines of the Rogers v. Grimaldi case:
This appeal presents a conflict between Rogers' right to protect her celebrated name and the right of others to express themselves freely in their own artistic work.
And it was decided that:
"suppressing an artistically relevant though ambiguous[ly] title[d] film" on trademark grounds "would unduly restrict expression."
But would I recommend wagering on "fair use", so to speak? No. Litigation is unpredictable, and even worse, a waste of your time and money, and it will cost you nothing to avoid it now.
Furthermore, that case was about a film title being misleading, so it's more of a matter of false advertising: you thought you were going to see Fred Astaire, you got ripped off.
In your case, what is misleading is who is the author. Which is much more relevant, because it'd be a violation of that actress' right to self-expression. I know it's not your intent to impersonate her, that your target audience is not someone who would be familiar with her, but there's clearly an ambiguity.
I don't think you can even claim you were acting in good faith, and that your intent wasn't to mislead, because you're already aware that you're using someone else's given name (compare the "All persons fictitious" disclaimer).
My advice is to just use another pseudonym.
- To be extra safe, look it up on Google, Facebook, sites to find information about people (Pipl, White Pages...), and see if anyone already has that name, or is using it as a pseudonym already. If it isn't, then you didn't use it knowingly.
- Try to make a cryptic pun on your own name. Say, pick the meaning of your name, look up a name with a similar meaning in another language, and use that.
- Use a name that is unambiguously a pseudonym, like ancient Latin names, a mononym, or puns like "A. Nonymous", or "I. C. Wiener".
Copyright laws are strict and well enforced in The US and most of the western hemisphere. They are intended to protect someone's identity and their right to their creative work. You'll need a release from the individual with the original name, or whoever party which holds the rights to that name.
Taking someone's name is just asking for trouble. I'd just steer away.
I strongly recommend that you coming up with your own pen name, then publicly register it with a copyright registration office such as the The United States Copyright Office.