Ask SPLC: Can we use the title of a show as a headline or yearbook theme?

Q. We want to use soap opera titles, such as “Days of our Lives,” to head our yearbook sections. Any problems?

A.  This question has many popular variants. For example, can we use book titles (Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” is a perennial favorite) as our yearbook theme? Can we use movie titles (for example, “The Sound of Music” to head the band section)? Can we use names of popular songs? The answer to all of these questions is “yes” — as long as you do it right.

The U.S. Copyright Office has determined that certain categories of material cannot be copyrighted because they lack the necessary creativity. Among them: names, titles, short phrases, expressions or catchwords and slogans. NBC, for example, cannot copyright the bare, unadorned words, “days of our lives,” and you are free to use them as a section header, a yearbook title or anyplace else without obtaining NBC’s permission. However, NBC does own the rights to the daytime soap opera, “Days of Our Lives,” and if you want to use other material from the show, such as photos of cast members, scripts, or the show’s hourglass logo, that material is copyrighted and (unless you can make a Fair Use claim, as discussed above) you’ll need to obtain permission from NBC.  

Every week, Student Press Law Center attorneys answer a frequently asked question about student media law in “Ask SPLC.”

See previous Ask SPLC questions

Have a question you’d like answered? Tell us in the form below. (Not all questions will be chosen for Ask SPLC.)

If you need immediate help, contact our Legal Hotline.