Here’s a “Project Gutenberg” that has nothing to do with the public domain. I just noticed that this is the English title of Hong Kong cinema legend Chow Yun Fat’s latest movie, released to Chinese theaters last fall and out on DVD at the end of the month. The movie is about a band of currency counterfeiters, possibly constituting a nod to Chow Yun Fat’s breakthrough role as a Triad gangster involved in a counterfeiting operation in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow.

The movie’s Chinese title, 無雙, just means “Unparalleled,” but it’s a common practice for Hong Kong films to choose a completely different English title from the Chinese one. The Project Gutenberg public domain ebook project is well-known, with affiliated projects around the world also using the Project Gutenberg name. Does this mean that the filmmakers chose the title with that in mind? On reflection, it seems unlikely.

The association of “Gutenberg” with printing presses makes that part of the title fairly obvious. There have been a number of other Hong Kong movies whose English titles used the “Project [noun]” construction, such as Jackie Chan’s Project A, so it seems like a case of two entities choosing the same name for different reasons.

I emailed Project Gutenberg CEO Dr. Gregory Newby to ask about it, and he replied that they had been aware of the existence of the movie since last year.

The phrase “Project Gutenberg” is a registered trademark, administered by the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation.  Trademarks are for specific products, services, brands, etc.  So, a movie called Project Gutenberg is not a trademark violation unless it is confusingly similar to our efforts to digitize and distribute free literature.

So far, there are no indications that there is any confusion.  We haven’t heard anything directly from the movie studio, and I haven’t tried to check whether they also registered “Project Gutenberg” as a trademark.  But, chances are that they would not find it confusing, either.

Given how many unfounded trademark lawsuits I’ve seen in the last few years, it’s refreshing to see a trademark holder being sensible about the low probability of trademark confusion between different fields. As Dr. Newby notes, trademarks only protect a name when used in relation to the same line of business. That Choose Your Own Adventure lawsuit I mentioned earlier turns on the Choose Your Own Adventure name being applied to a non-CYOA book within Netflix’s movie.

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