In the enchanting universe of cinema, the title is like the first hint of what the story might be. A well-crafted title possesses the unique ability to captivate audiences, leaving them intrigued and eager to delve into the world the film promises. It’s a cinematic overture that can make or break a movie’s success. But here’s the tricky question of whether movie titles can be subject to copyright or trademark protection in India? In this article, we will explore the legal framework surrounding movie titles in India, the challenges associated with protecting them, and the implications for filmmakers and the industry as a whole. So, when you see a movie title that grabs your attention, remember that it’s not just a name; it’s an invitation to a world of storytelling and imagination.

Legal Landscape

To understand the protection of movie titles in India, we need to delve into the legal framework governing intellectual property rights, primarily copyright and trademark law.

A. Copyright Law

Copyright is a legal right that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution. In India, copyright protection is governed by the Copyright Act, 1957. Under this law, copyright protection is available for literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, including cinematographic films.

a. Cinematographic Films: Section 13(1)(b) of the Copyright Act specifically includes cinematographic films in the list of works eligible for copyright protection. This includes not only the film itself but also its underlying literary and dramatic works.

b. Movie Titles: While the Copyright Act protects the content of a film, it does not explicitly address the protection of movie titles. This omission has led to a legal grey area where movie titles are concerned. The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Krishika Lulla & Ors v. Shyam Vithalrao Devkatta & Anr, reinforced the non-copyrightability of movie titles in India. The Court clarified that movie titles, as labels or names for films, are incomplete and do not qualify as “original literary works” deserving of copyright protection. This ruling set a crucial precedent, highlighting the distinction between movie titles and copyrighted content.

c. De minimis principle: The de minimis principle operates on the premise that not every use of copyrighted material warrants legal action or protection. It recognizes that some uses are so minimal or inconsequential that they should not be subject to copyright claims. When applied to movie titles, the de minimis principle underscores why titles are not eligible for copyright protection. Movie titles are typically short phrases or names that serve as mere labels or references to the films they represent. They lack the depth, originality, and creative expression that copyright law seeks to protect. In essence, titles represent a trivial aspect of a film when viewed in the context of copyrightable content.


B. Trademark Law

While copyright law may not extend to movie titles, there is another avenue through which filmmakers and producers can protect their titles—trademark law. Trademarks are used to identify the source of goods or services, and in the context of movies, they can potentially safeguard movie titles. The key aspects of trademark law in India pertaining to movie titles include:

a. Distinctiveness Requirement: To qualify for trademark registration, a movie title must exhibit distinctiveness. This means that the title should be capable of distinguishing the movie or its production company from others in the market. Titles that are merely descriptive or composed of common phrases may face challenges in meeting this criterion.

b. Association with Film-Related Services: A trademark is always granted with respect to some goods or services. Similarly, trademark protection for movie titles is typically granted when they are used in connection with film-related services. This includes services related to film production, distribution, and exhibition.

Considerations for Seeking Trademark Protection

When filmmakers and producers seek trademark protection for their movie titles in India, they should keep several considerations in mind:

1. Distinctiveness: To enhance the chances of successful trademark registration, filmmakers should prioritize creating original and distinctive titles that set their movies apart from others in the industry.

2. Secondary Meaning: For single films with non-distinctive titles, it may be necessary to prove that the title has acquired secondary meaning in the eyes of the audience. This can be achieved through factors such as the duration of usage, advertising and promotion expenses, and the movie’s viewership and sales figures.

3. Usage Class: Filmmakers should determine the appropriate class for trademark registration based on the purpose of usage of the mark. Class 41, covering entertainment services, is often relevant, but other classes may apply depending on the usage.

Trademark Protection and Movie Titles

Movie titles can be trademarked if they meet certain criteria, particularly in Class 41, which covers entertainment services. There are two main types of movie titles when it comes to trademark registration:

1. Single Films: Titles without prequels or sequels must prove that the title has acquired secondary meaning. Factors considered include duration of usage, expenses on advertisement and promotion, and the film’s worth based on viewership and sales figures.

2. Series Films: Titles associated with prequels or sequels often already have secondary significance due to their connections with previous films. This makes it easier to obtain trademark registration.


In an ever-changing entertainment landscape, where establishing a strong brand and effective marketing are paramount, offering legal safeguards for movie titles transcends a mere matter of legal entitlement; it emerges as a crucial business strategy. A well-defined legal framework serves the best interests of both content creators and consumers, guaranteeing that movie titles retain their influential role in the dynamic realm of cinema.

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