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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Quote: Does this mean that the filmmakers chose the title with that in mind? On reflection, it seems unlikely.
On reflection, it’s probably yet another illustration of corporate (here entertainment) cluelessness. A name like “Gutenberg Scam” would have been better.
More and more, I’m coming to believe that corporate executives so warp their minds climbing the ladder that they lose their common sense. Gillette’s recent attempt to sell more razors by insulting their male customers illustrates that to perfection. As some men have pointed out, if Gillette really thinks that ad was not insulting to men, then all it need do is bring out a similar ad directed at women, one blaming all women for the sins of a few.
The bookish Project Gutenberg’s problem may lie in a different area. In my writing, I use Internet search engines to locate information about obscure topics. Typically, that goes well, but woe to me if my topic has the same name as a rock band, a movie, or some tech gadget. I end up swamped with links to that use and have to go down pages and pages to find the use I was looking for. This may do the same for those who’re looking to get public domain books from PG. They’ll have to wade through a host of links to movie reviews.
Of course, the opposite could be true. Those looking for the movie may find instead numerous links to free ebooks. That’s why this corporate naming was so stupid. Besides, it’s also a dull title for a book about organized crime. The title should create a sense of fear and mystery.
Many years ago Kodak did it right when it looked for what became its name. Planning for global sales, it sought out a word that was easily pronounced by speakers of almost every language and that had no obscene meaning in any. That helped propel to company to worldwide success. More recently, missing the importance of the shift to digital—recall what I said about today’s clueless corporate executives—sent them spiraling downward. I quote from Forbes:
Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who invented the first digital camera in 1975, characterized the initial corporate response to his invention this way: “But it was filmless photography, so management’s reaction was, ‘that’s cute—but don’t tell anyone about it.’”
Corporate executives also tend to surround themselves with yes-men who fail to tell them, “That’s stupid.” Back in the 1950s, journalists—a perpetually clueless profession—thought President Eisenhower was indecisive because he seemed to change his POV at cabinet meetings. The idea that someone who’d successfully commanded one of the largest multi-national armies is human history was indecisive was absurd.
Eisenhower was doing something different. He knew that many members of his cabinet would agree with whatever view he seemed to be taking, so he’d open a cabinet meeting by appearing to have the opposite POV. He’s then listen to the yes-men advocating that POV. If they weren’t persuasive, he’d come out for the view he’d always held.