Going Rogue, Going Rouge

So here’s a cute little copyright (or trademark?) problem (or, depending on your viewpoint, an outrageous rip-off). According to Entertainment Weekly (and the Gateway Pundit) start-up publisher OR Books has announced plans to publish Going Rouge: Sarah Palin An American Nightmare, a collection of essays about the former Alaska governor with a title — and cover design — remarkably similar to Palin’s upcoming memoir (entitled Going Rogue: Sarah Palin, An American Life). And the OR paperback will be released on Nov. 17, the same day that Palin’s book is scheduled to hit the shelves.

As Thom Geier at EW puts it: “don’t these jackets look too similar to be, well, fully kosher? At the very least, might some hockey-mom-loving conservatives be confused enough to pick up the wrong book? You betcha!” It may not be fully kosher, but it’s not infringement, as I see it — copyright law doesn’t protect people against “confusion,” it protects against copying. There’s a long-standing tradition in copyright law that book titles are not protected, so the going Rogue/Going Rouge similarity is not actionable. And if you look at the two covers carefully, you’ll see that actually not much else (other than the picture of Palin, about which she surely has no copyright complaint) has actually been copied. (And, if there were a viable copyright infringement claim, OR might well have a very strong fair use/parody defense).

A claim sounding in trademark (or its close state law cousin, unfair competition) might have a somewhat better chance of success here. The Lanham Act, the federal trademark statute, imposes liability on:

“Any person who . . . uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which (A) is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person . . .”

I’m no trademark expert, but I would think there’d be a reasonable case here that the use of the similar title+typeface+coverdesign, plus the release of the book on the same day as Palin’s is intended to (and likely to) cause confusion among consumers as to the “origin” or “sponsorship” of the goods.

[Thanks to Angela Canney for the link]

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