BY: SETH COTLER
Shakespeare, in Romeo and Juliet wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet….” While Shakespeare may have a point that a name does not denote the quality or character of that thing, a name is important in conveying important information to another in a quick fashion. This is why intellectual property is an increasingly valuable asset in this day and age.
A great recent example of this is the comic book now known as FBP: The Federal Bureau of Physics. Recently, a comic book named Collider was forced to change its title after the release of the first issue, when the writer was informed that another book had already claimed the name.[1. Alex Zalbin, Collider Gets A Name Change [Exclusive], (Nov. 17, 2013, 5:00 PM), http://geek-news.mtv.com/2013/08/12/collider-fbp-federal-bureau-of-physics/.] The first issue of the book formerly known as Collider received excellent reviews from MTV Geek,[2. Patrick A. Reed, New Comic Day Pull-List: ‘Worlds of Sam Keith’, ‘Collider’, ‘Captain Marvel’, And More Reviewed, Nov. 17, 2013, 5:15 PM), http://geek-news.mtv.com/2013/08/01/new-comic-book-day-pull-list-worlds-of-sam-keith-collider-captain-marvel-reviews/] Comics Alliance,[3. Joseph Hughes, WEIRD JOBS, BROKEN PHYSCIS AND THE INEVITABILITY OF CHANGE IN ‘COLLIDER’ #1 [REVIEW], (Nov. 17, 5:15 PM), http://comicsalliance.com/collider-1-review-vertigo/] Comic Book Resources,[4. Kelly Thompson, COLLIDER #1, (Nov. 17, 5:15 PM), http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=user_review&id=6284] and IGN,[5. Melissa Grey, Collider #1 It’s the end of the world as we know it, (Nov. 17, 2013, 5:15 PM), http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/08/01/collider-1-review] additionally the original printing was a sell out.[6. Zalbin, supra note 1.]
However, something interesting happened with issue 2 of the book now known as FBP: The Federal Bureau of Physics. The sales took a noticeable decline, despite a promising start. The book known under the title FBP sold 12, 661,[7. August 2013 Comic Book Sales Figures, (Nov. 17, 2013, 5:25 PM), http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2013/2013-08.html] almost a full 3,000 issue down from Collider #1 which sold 15,602 issues.[8. July 2013 Comic Book Sales Figures, (Nov. 17, 2013, 5:25 PM), http://www.comichron.com/monthlycomicssales/2013/2013-07.html]
While it is to be expected there will be some drop off between issues 1 and 2 because some people may just not have liked the first issue for whatever reason, it is very unlikely 3,000 people did not enjoy the first issue. It is very unlikely that a book that was critically acclaimed and required a reprinting of the first issue would have 3,000 dissatisfied readers. The most logical explanation is that those who went back to their comic book shop the next month looking for a book named Collider were unable to find that book, and were unaware of the name change.
While this example is completely anecdotal, it makes plenty of sense. Simon Oliver, the writer of FBP, makes the point quite well. Names are not easy, and need to sum up a concept in a neat umbrella.[9. Zalbin, supra note 1.] Think of some of the most famous books or movies in recent memory, and how different they would be if the title were different. Would the Harry Potter series be as popular worldwide, if instead of being called Harry Potter, the book was required to be called something else decidedly less catchy? Would the title Reginald Tidleywinks sell as well as Harry Potter?
This doesn’t just apply to books either. Many products have names that inform a prospective buyer of qualities that the product possesses. An example that comes to mind is the Dodge Charger. The name Charger denotes power and speed charging down the highway, a name befitting of its muscle car legacy. In stark contrast is the Dodge Dart, a small nimble car that can dart through traffic.
This is why intellectual property is so important in this day and age. Releasing a product, a book, a car or anything else, a name is a brand in itself. As you can see with FBP, had someone taken a little extra time and checked to see if there was any infringement of intellectual property rights, FBP would not have been the title of the book from the start, and there may not have been a loss of readers due to confusion.
This should also serve as a cautionary tale for other creators as well. Simon Oliver and DC comics got away lucky in the grand scheme of things. While Oliver is clearly not happy that he was required to change the title of his book,[10. Id.] the consequences could have been far worse. Oliver and DC Comics are lucky that this honest mistake did not result in a lawsuit, which would have been costly and time consuming.