Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Queen of Crime? Trouble with the law? I don’t think so – Colin Hulme

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Author Val McDermid recently went public about a legal threat over using the “Queen of Crime” slogan.

The Agatha Christie Estate has reportedly claimed trademark infringement related to the use of the words in publishing McDermid’s books and has suggested that legal action be taken if their publishers continue to use the slogan.

It appears that a company called Agatha Christie Limited actually registered two trademarks for Queen of Crime, applicable to books and other printed materials. This means that if these words are used by McDermid’s publishers, it may be a trademark infringement.

If found, Agatha Christie Limited would be free to seek an injunction to prevent a recurrence, and even financial relief.

However, it is not certain that a trademark infringement could be established here. It would need to be shown that: the same words are used (they are); that the words are used in books or printed material (I assume they are); and that it is done in a way that is likely to cause confusion with the trademark of Agatha Christie Limited.

I’m not so sure about the last point. If McDermid’s publishers put out a book with the caption “Val McDermid – Queen of Crime” at the top, would anyone be confused and think the book could be Christie’s?

I doubt it. Unless it has been determined that the public may believe there is a connection between McDermid and Christie, determining trademark infringement can be challenging.

Agatha Christie Limited would face another obstacle, namely that those words could be construed as descriptive and not as a mark indicating origin. It’s not exclusive to Christie, either, as the phrase “queen of crime” has also been applied to crime writers Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh, all of whom have written in the last century.

However, it appears that only the Christie estate had the foresight to claim a monopoly on the award.

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