If you know me, even a little, you know I stay out of 99.9% of the drama that naturally comes out of the Indie Publishing world. This is a) for my mental health and b) because I don’t like to spread negativity, but the shit has hit the fan, y’all. I must talk, and if you’re an author, you probably should too. Grab a coffee, a muffin, or a stiff drink depending on your time zone because this won’t be short…
First off, if you ARE an author, especially a Romance genre Indie, take a breath. In. Out. Repeat. You probably know what this is going to be about. If you aren’t an author, let me explain: If you don’t know much about trademarks and copyright, in short, trademarks are there for people to legally register the symbol or words that represent their brand (like a logo for example) so no one else can legally use them. Look up the definition like I did if you need further info. Like trademarks, copyrights protect intellectual property during legal battles, though they aren’t necessary in the book world, they are advised in case you ever have to take someone to court for ‘stealing’ your work. Both are solid ways to protect your work, but there are rules and expectations on what can be trademarked and what can’t. A solitary word that has been used for years in and outside of the publishing industry is typically safe from being trademarked because most written words are used in unique ways for different works. We’ve all assumed this, I suspect. If you’re a decent author, you work hard to make your work stand out from the rest, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t end up using a similar stock art photo, the same font, the same words, or even the same title as someone else. None of those things are illegal, by the way, unless you have used another’s trademark or copyrighted material (snatching a photo off the internet without paying for the licensing to use it or throwing the APPLE logo on a project without their permission).
The Indie world is a mad hot mess right now over an author who claims to have been granted the trademark for the word ‘cocky’ and is issuing C&D’s to other authors who have ‘cocky’ in their book titles or series, despite how common this word is in the Romance genre. Let me point out, she did not say it was the name of her book title or book series that she trademarked, but just the word. This blew people’s minds and freaked out a lot of authors who, like me, struggle to make ends meet and can’t fathom the financial ramifications of being sued. According to posts I’ve read on FB over the last 24hrs, there are authors who have been warned to change their book titles immediately or face legal action and were told it will only take a day to makes these changes. There’s a whole lot of WRONG here, that any author would have the audacity to trademark a word that’s been in existence since before she was born is just the start. If she had done this with her series name, this wouldn’t be an issue, and no one would care, because no one is stealing the word ‘cocky’ by having it in their book title. And it takes a whole lot more than one day to change the name of a book (the file, the cover, the interior for ebooks and prints, and any and all marketing material like banners, business cards, and online promotional ads…this can’t be done in a day for anyone). But here’s the thing, after reading about this and seeing how heated the situation became, I was beyond mortified that this could even happen, so this morning I went and did some fact-checking, and according to the trademark ID that this author provided in a private correspondence that’s gone public, the word ‘cocky’ is NOT registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Nor her name or series name or book title. So, I’m confused…is it registered or no? Is this a publicity stunt that backfired in her face (which is why I’m not dropping her name – look this up if you want to know who the author is)? Are we getting worked up over nothing and sucked into the nasty world of online bullying? Maybe. I’ll be fact-checking, for sure, as you all should. *EDIT – Because my FB friends are ON IT like white on rice, they were able to provide the proper Trademark link to this, and yes, I can verify it’s real unless this is a forged gov’t page. You can google it, I’m not sharing it directly.*
For those who are panicking, I suggest consulting a lawyer about the validity of this and/or reaching out to the Trademark Dept directly. It may give you some peace while the rest of us wait to see what the heck is going to happen. Many people have already found some legal flaws with this – like how could a court possibly enforce a lawsuit of this nature? How can someone be sued if they have already legally registered their book for a copyright that took place before this trademark was filed? So. Many. Questions. But I’m not a lawyer, so speak to one if you need to, and keep those receipts because I smell some counter-lawsuits toward this person in the future. Going after this author personally will do nothing for you, and it only gives her more fuel and publicity that she doesn’t deserve (if said accusations are in fact, true). So, don’t be an asshole. We need to be the bigger people here. The Indie community is strong and should come together to promote a positive publishing world, not a negative one.
For those who are like, ‘Why does this even matter to you if you don’t have the word ‘cocky’ on your book covers?’ Um, because if you can trademark ONE word, what’s to say someone else won’t trademark one of the words I’ve been using for my book titles since 2012? What’s to say that a handful of authors aren’t already freaking out and trying to trademark their book titles, ruining the usage of said words to many other past and future writers right this minute? THIS is why the Indie world is freaking out. The potential for this, if it’s indeed true, is catastrophic to a writer’s freedom of speech. If we are banned from using commonly used words, then nothing we write is safe. This is why we need to talk about this. This applies to ALL Artists, by the way. This could even impact musicians.
Personally, I’m all about copyrighting your work, and trademarking your logo (if you made it or paid someone else to), but “Cocky Gate” has created a fear down deep that this could set an awful precedent in the publishing world. It’s shown us, once again, that some people in this industry will go to bizarre lengths to get attention and make sales, but it’s also a reminder to protect your shit, in a responsible and legal way. Artists are underappreciated and underpaid and we deserve our work to be protected, but this is not the way to do it.
What also concerns me is the way some people are reacting to this story. I’ve yet to see another person post about the first thing I did – which was check this out via the Trademark Dept myself. Surely someone has. I hope. Now, it’s quite possible ‘cocky’ is registered and isn’t showing as such yet. I guess. But I’d like to know more facts first, not just what’s been shared via blog posts and email screenshots, because the more posts I see, the less this feels real and the less funny the reactions are. Let’s do our due diligence here and figure out what’s really going on, and take a professional stand if need be, to put things right. We are a community and need to act like it. We can set an example that our industry is a beautiful one.
Feel free to comment, discuss, and fact-check under this thread. I encourage you to do so. But don’t bully. I don’t have time to moderate that. Happy Freaking Monday, y’all.