Parts of Twitter appear to be in flames over a romance author who has not just taken out a trademark on the word ‘cocky’ but is also writing to other authors and asking them (telling them?) to remove the word from their books.
Author Faleena Hopkins has a series of books centred around some “Cocker Brothers” (I assume that’s their surname) and each of the books has the word “Cocky” in their title (e.g. ‘Cocky Cowboy’). Fair enough as far as that goes – lots of ways to prove love is real. However, the term ‘Cocky’ was then registered as a trademark. Trademarks of mundane words or things (e.g. purple, specifically the Pantone 2685C purple) always cause some angst for obvious reasons – it feels like an attempt to enclose common land.
This move was further exacerbated by the author (or people representing her? Not sure.) apparently requesting other authors to remove the word ‘cocky’ from their titles. There is some dispute if this included books that were written before the trademark.
The need to trademark common words is often presented as a dilemma: the need to reasonably protect intellectual property and brand recognition versus the right to use words how we like. I don’t think there is actually much a dilemma here – if somebody wants a protectable trademark then they need to make it distinctive in the first place. If you are using a common word and want that to be how you are perceived as being distinctive then obviously you’ve made an error from the start. You will get genuine confusion and people unwittingly using ‘your’ term in ways you don’t want and you’ll have no neat way of distinguishing that from actual scammers.
The author in question now feels they are being bullied on Twitter and that’s unfortunate but it’s also unfortunate that other authors feel legally threatened for using the word ‘cocky’. Regardless of the legal right to trademark the word, I’d have thought the inevitable negative reaction would be a reason for not doing this.
(Update: a better overview is here: http://legalinspiration.com/?p=503 )
[update: Nate Hoffelder has a quote filled update https://the-digital-reader.com/2018/05/05/cockygate-faleena-hopkins-has-registered-a-trademark-on-cocky-and-is-using-it-to-threaten-other-romance-authors/amp/?__twitter_impression=true ]