Hollywood Renegades Archive

The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

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What's In a Name?

The Little-Known Secret of Title Registration in Hollywood

Excerpt from Hollywood Renegades by J. A. Aberdeen


Since 1925, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (commonly known as the Hays Office) maintained the Title Registration Bureau which allowed the member companies the ability to reserve specific film titles, whether or not the company had any intention on making a movie by such name. Since titles and names were not subject to copyright protection, the title registration division of the Hays Office helped protect its members with self-enforced rules that avoided the duplication of titles and kept the more devious filmmakers from intentionally creating confusion in the marketplace. Unfortunately for the independents, the rule disadvantaged newcomers who effectively found most of the intuitive-sounding titles already reserved by the large studios.

On occasion the title registration created problems even for more established independents. When Chaplin received the copyright for his forthcoming picture titled "The Dictator" in November 1938, he then discovered that Paramount owned the MPPDA title registration. Rather than pay the $25,000 that Paramount asked in order to transfer the rights to the Chaplin studio, Chaplin decided to alter his title to The Great Dictator (1940) instead.

Even though each company was limited to 250 name registrations, the studios were able to tie up thousands of titles using their many subsidiary companies as registrars. On the other hand, the studios claimed it was not fair for an independent producer who released only one or two films a year to be afforded the same registration limit as a studio that released as many of 50 features annually.

In 1943 SIMPP asked for title registration reform. Will Hays told the Society that he was entertaining a substitute plan that would incorporate a sliding scale that allowed larger companies to reserve more titles. However SIMPP felt such a plan would be a deterrent to new producers. Instead the MPPDA agreed to limit the number of feature titles to 100 feature names per company. The self-regulated title registration system, with slight modification, is still in effect in Hollywood to this day.

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SOURCES:

MPPDA Title Registration Bureau: John C. Flinn to Walter Wanger, March 19, 1943, WWP; Will H. Hays to John C. Flinn, May 21, 1943, WWP; John C. Flinn to Walter F. Wanger, May 27, 1943, WWP; John C. Flinn to SIMPP, February 29, 1944; Chaplin, My Autobiography, pp. 391-392.

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