Copyright “Trivia” and Stupid People

Apparently it’s a little-known fact that no one does or can own commonplace words that have been in common use for centuries…

My sister-in-law has been doing artistic stuff with branch heraldry for the Society for Creative Anachronism, and then selling various items with those heraldic designs on Zazzle, Society 6, etc.

Earlier today, Society 6 informed her that she is not allowed to use the word shire in the title of any art she uploads, because that word ‘belongs to another rights holder.’ (Example: the Shire of Blackwater Keep, the local SCA group.)

It doesn’t. It has never belonged to anyone. Common words cannot be trademarked/copyrighted, nor can they be the property of any ‘rights holder.’



This is what my sister-in-law said in a message to Society 6 a couple days ago:

I keep getting a notice that some of the words in titles/tags I want to use ‘belong to another rights holder.’ One such word is “Shire” — as in, “Shire of Coeur du Val”, a chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. (No one has EVER owned the word “shire” — it’s as much a “copyrightable” word as “city” or “borough” would be.) Apparently the word “anachronism” is also not allowed because it ‘may belong to another rights holder’; this is also nonsense.

Generic, common-use words CAN NOT be copyrighted, nor can they belong to any single “rights holder.” I want to be allowed to use the necessary tags/titles to label my work without being told, ‘You can’t do that — that commonplace word is, like, totally copyrighted by someone, somewhere.’

…And here’s their reply, received today (Oct. 29):

We do have some words that are copyright, the system detects them and are not available to use for wording content.


No individual word can be copyrighted.

Society 6 was founded in Miami (says so right on their website); they’re not ‘in some foreign country with different copyright laws’ (and, to the best of my knowledge, there are no English-speaking countries that allow individual words to be copyrighted anyway).

Remember when, earlier in this century, some movie-making idjits attempted to trademark the word shire because it’s used as a place name in a movie they’d made, and they didn’t want anyone else to be able to use that word in a place name without paying them for permission? The tl;dr version: They weren’t allowed to trademark that word. No one can trademark a word that’s been in common use for a very, very long time. (This is why The Science Fiction Channel became Syfy; no one can own a word/phrase such as science fiction, either, even though it hasn’t been around for much more than a century, compared to the more than a millennium that shire has been in use.)

I’m sharing this photo now, before someone decides that one of the words printed on that mug is “copyrighted” and “belongs to another rights holder.” Or decides that, because everything about that image on the mug is a reference to a written work of fiction, I’m not allowed to own something with that image unless the “rights holder” is compensated monetarily. (The author of the work of fiction in question is also the person who created that image, and the image was created for me, because I wanted a “mission patch” for the Amundsen, but whatever.)






About Thomas Weaver

For several years, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom (editor). I'm physically disabled, and I currently live with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have eight cats. I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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