In 2000 or 2001 Despair.com reacted to Amazon patenting the the “One-click Ordering System” that other sites had also been using, by trademarking the Frowny Face emoticon. You know the one I’m talking about “:(” They did it to make a point and have a laugh at Amazon’s expense. People took it seriously and the uproar was hilarious. They gave people time to remove those frowny emoticons and offered them a chance to order free licenses to use them. Still some people were furious. Sadly, Despair’s tale and the recorded phone calls might only be found in search engine archives, since they’ve been removed from the main website, but I remember this joke fondly. Despair.com is one of the prime “demotivation” sites on the web today.
This story came to mind when I read about a Romance author who trademarked the word “Cocky” from a series she has been writing and has, allegedly, started sending out Cease and Desist letters to other Romance others who have the word “Cocky” in their title. There are two trademarks from what I’ve seen. The first is the trademark on the stylistic way cocky’s portrayed on her book covers. That is a legitimate concern. If that were not trademarked, anyone could use that same style and confuse readers, making readers think that the book with the stolen logo was related to the original series – thus diluting the value of her brand. The second one is the one that’s caused the uproar. She’s apparently gotten a trademark for the word when used in a series of Romance books. She’s taken that legal standing, which is ludicrous in itself, and is apparently troubling other authors who have the word “cocky” in the title of a single book. Her claim is that her readers get confused when they see the word itself, even if it’s not in her signature (trademarked now) style and doesn’t have her name as the author. I don’t pretend to be a lawyer, but Legal Inspiration blog has a good discussion, although they don’t claim to be sharing legal advice.
With this thought, I should be able to trademark use of the words “Ice Cream” or “Castles” in the titles of blogs because people might be looking for my blog and go to another one because the title might be “Ice Castles.” And yes, there’s an Ice Castles and an Ice Castle blog. My claim might be on shaky territory, since those blogs are specific to Ice fishing and building Ice Castles. Same thing with Blogs named Ice Cream. Even worse, suppose I took the title of my devotional series and sought to trademark words so that no one else could use those words in a devotional book series. The title of my series is “Daily Enduring Truth.” Using her logic, I should be able to keep other blogs and/or book series from using the words “Daily,” “Enduring,” or “Truth” in their titles. That would make the religious writer I know, and don’t know, very happy, I’m sure. (YUP, that was sarcasm.)
The writing community tends to be supportive. I have friends who are avowedly not Christians, but they support me in my writing. I support friends whose books don’t live up to Christian ideals, nor would they make any claims to do so. I don’t read Romance novels, so you could say that this isn’t my fight – but it is. As supportive of each other as the writing community is, if you do something unethical designed to hurt other writers, the writing community will band together and fight. If you want to stand alone as a writer, attack other writers or do something designed to make it more difficult for other writers so that you can advance at their expense. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially if any of these cases get taken to court. I have no doubt in my mind though that the person who sought to use the law to bully others into conforming with her wishes will become a pariah in the writing community if she doesn’t change her ways.