In Other News: My Thoughts on #cockygate

In case you didn’t know, there’s an indie Romance author named Faleena Hopkins who holds a trademark on the word “COCKY.”

I know, right?!?!

Two trademarks actually, one for the word  “COCKY” in reference to her romance series based on the Cocker brothers, and one for the word in a stylized script logo. These were approved on April 17 and May 1 of this year.

With her new certificates of ownership hot off the presses, she allegedly commenced to send threatening letters to other romance authors who have used the word “Cocky” in their titles, informing them that she’s already lawyered up and if they don’t change the title of their books she’s going to take all their profits and their little dogs too.

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Now, I’m no lawyer, but I was still dubious of the legality of her claims. If authors can run around trademarking to prevent others from using words whose etymology goes back to the 1500’s then basically the industry is screwed. I mean, what will we name the books? NYT Bestselling author Christopher Rice tweeted, “I’m sorry, but if it’s actually legal to trademark a SINGLE WORD in relation to the title of a work of fiction, or a series of fictional works, then there are going to be three possible titles of novels left, and each one will be composed entirely of contractions.”

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I mention his NYT Bestselling status to show that this is not just making waves in the indie community among authors who don’t have the financial means to keep a lawyer on retainer.

Further research led me to a legal post by lawyer Marc Whipple which gives credence to my credulity. I also discovered that the owner of the font she used for her trademark said she had no legal right to do so. Regardless, I just can’t stop asking myself why.

By trademark bullying other authors you alienate yourself from your peers in a community that tends to be endlessly supportive and protective of its own. Like other artists in their fields, writers bolster and encourage each other, even biggies like Neil Gaiman and Maggie Stiefvater send personalized encouragement to newbies. I’ve watched authors tirelessly promote one another on all forms of social media. They read and buy each others books, review, blog, assist one another. Why would she not want to be a part of that? Is she so frightened that her art can’t stand on its own two feet that she feels the need to bash in the knees of her competitors to win her place on the podium?

And if you thought authors were tight-knit, it’s a whole new world of Gordian knot proportions when you get to Romance authors. Their followers too. Romance is a very specific genre with very loyal readership. Why would you want to make waves in that pool? And those waves managed to wet the Romance Writes of America, an organization that supports big names in Romance like multi award-winning author Nora Roberts. RWA leadership has posted on twitter, as well as their website, that any Romance writer (member or not) is to contact them if they have been threatened with legal action for the use of the word “cocky.”

If I were her that would scare me quite a bit.

I went onto her social media to look for her side of the story. The first thing I found on Twitter was her author description which unfortunately makes her seem callous.

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I gave her the benefit of the doubt again, that her response to this deluge of negative online attention was to be brazenly confident, and moved on to her Facebook page. I found several posts there where she claimed that she had obtained the trademark because people were pirating her work, trying to tack themselves onto her success with similar titles and book covers. But, let’s be honest, if you stack a hundred romances written by a hundred different authors in a row, they’re all going to have similarities in titles and covers (I know this from working at a library shelving fiction books). The inside is what matters. The outside is just par for the genre course, and most authors roll with it. (This article address this better, and also mentions several other authors allegedly affected by her cease and desist letters.)

Romance books are not really a genre I read, but the idea of all this happening just makes me sad, both for the authors attacked and for the instigator as well. There’s no good end for this. Hopkins is now being personally attacked and bullied by people online. That’s never okay. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. Nor do I think it fair that I’ve seen multiple people on twitter saying she should just vanish or never write again. Why don’t we ever discuss forgiveness anymore, or the fact that humans make mistakes? I mean, am I the only one here who’s ever had to learn a lesson the hard way? Regardless, either Hopkins is right and she’ll open the floodgates to a myriad of legal issues for artists everywhere (which is scary), or she’s wrong and she’s just outed herself as a bully to the national organization that supports her genre. Basically, she’s just one tribal council away from being voted off the island.

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And for what? Greed maybe? Fear?

…and possibly some bad legal advice.

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