It’s been a weird week in publishing.
A writer – I won’t mention her name – decided to trademark a common English word. Worse, she sent a flurry of Cease and Desist letters to authors who dared use this common word in their book titles.
That’s the short version. People laughed, at first. I didn’t, because I know how Amazon works. Even though the idea of trademarking a commonplace word and then demanding that no one else use it is silly, Amazon will yank books at the first hint of legal entanglement, no matter how specious the claim of the legality.
The trademark troll insists she’s doing nothing wrong. She claims authors using ‘her’ word can simply change their titles and covers (in a day, she claims) and avoid legal issues, including lawsuits filed by her.
It’s not that easy, of course. You can’t just change a book cover title with a few clicks. I’m sure she-who-will-not-be-named knows this. But she also knows she’s got indie authors over a barrel. No author wants to lose their book, their reviews, or their rankings. No one wants to spend months convincing Amazon they were the victim of a shady trademark scam. But that’s what will very likely happen if Miss Trademark Troll raises a stink with Amazon.
Fortunately, cracks have already started to show in her scheme. She trademarked not just the word, but also the word depicted in a specific font. As the wrath of the romance author community was roused, someone identified the font, tracked down the owner of the company which owns the font, and discovered the owner specifically prohibits anyone registering a trademark using one of their fonts. And no, this author wasn’t given special permission.
Oops. Strike one. Don’t mess with romance authors, for they are many in number, skilled in the ways of the net, and not afraid of your litigious ass.
Next, the Cease and Desist notices didn’t come from an actual law firm, but from the author herself. That’s suspicious too. If you actually have high-powered lawyers, why are you doing their work? Lawyers are usually none too happy when their clients start throwing legalese around, especially phrases such as ‘my lawyer assures me I will win if I sue, so do as I say, or else.’
Still, I know of at least one author who changed her title and her cover.
I get why she did that. The whole ‘I own common English adjective X’ argument is stupid, and I predict it won’t hold up under even the most casual legal scrutiny. But dealing with Amazon once they remove your book is nothing short of a nightmare. I don’t blame her for changing the title. Honestly, I might have done the same, knowing I could change it back in a few weeks after the dust settled.
Does anyone remember patent trolls? They were always in the news, in the late 90s. The scam worked like this – patent troll patents some ludicrous aspect of a device or system. Let’s say the trolls managed to patent an L shaped piece of metal with a hole at each end for bolts. Simple – so simple a variation on the dingus appears in nearly every machine everywhere.
Then the trolls claimed anybody using anything remotely similar to their patented L shaped gizmo was infringing on them. The trolls were usually careful – they wouldn’t go after Boeing, for instance, or IBM, because they had lawyers and deep pockets. Instead, the trolls went after smaller companies, knowing they’d likely toss money at them just to make them go away.
Makes me think patent trolls returned to their damp caves and evolved. Now they are trademark trolls and are taking aim at small-time authors. While no one has been shaken down for money – yet – one could argue it’s a strongarm tactic designed to go after the authors our troll sees as competition.
If this act of trademarking a common word is not confronted and reversed, there’s nothing to stop me, for instance, from trademarking the word ‘dark’ as it is used in fantasy novel titles.
After all, I used the word dark in a title in my fantasy series. According to Trademark Troll's argument, readers get confused when they see another title with the word dark in it.
If anyone out there has ever bought a book thinking it was mine because it had ‘dark’ in the title, let me know. I know you haven’t, because you’re not dumb. We’re readers. We know how titles work.
This entire kerfuffle was born of a dim-witted argument and a mean-spirited legal dodge. The RWA (Romance Writers of America) is now involved, which means actual lawyers are on the case. I figure the whole mess will be resolved quickly, and common words will go back to being used freely, as they ought to be.
But what a way to nuke your own standing in the writing community…
Mug and Meralda Images
I mentioned last week I’d been working on a digital model of Mug. While I don’t have all 29 eyes modeled yet, I do have enough to post a couple of images I hope you’ll enjoy. So, for the first time ever, I present Meralda and Mug.
Building Mug is a time-consuming affair. You can't just pop out and buy a houseplant with 29 mobile eyes who rides around in a birdcage. But I'm pleased with the first draft, and with further refinement I think he'll make his way onto a cover soon.
In the meantime, I see leaves and vines in my sleep. Please, email or tell me what you think in the comments!
These are rough images, with short render times. Once I get subjects, poses, and lighting all perfected, I'll do a photorealistic render that will probably take 10 to 15 hours.
Finally, a couple of re-imagined book covers, just for a chuckle or two.