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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Open Up! It's the Trademark Police!

It's been an odd 24 hours around the old Romance Books R Us virtual water cooler. We've worn out a bunch of Kleenex (tm) and had to make a few Xerox (tm) copies, fired up the Mr. Coffee (tm) more than a few times, done our Facebook (tm) and Twitter (tm) duties to spread the word and our iPhones (tm) and Androids (tm) have been buzzing with email after email about this whole thing. I've spent some time at Starbucks (tm) thinking about this and now that I have my weekly egg mcmuffin (tm) on board I'm ready to talk about it with you.

Having been a victim of the trademark police already myself this week, I'm in a pretty unique position to speak to the problem on this, my Official Romance Books R Us (tm) blogging day.

My big snafu (probably tm by the US Government so I'm putting it here just in case) was a little more straightforward mind you. I have a pretty successful series of erotic romance books (Floor Time, Sweat Equity and Closing Costs) that we have been referring to as "The Realtors (tm) Series."  I got a preliminary thumbs up to use the word within the body of the work when referring to the characters who, it seems are NOT actually Realtors (tm) but merely fictional beings who play act at being Real Estate Agents.  Plus I put the word Realtors (tm) on the covers:


On Monday I got an interestingly timed cease and desist email asking me to please...well, cease and desist. As a brewery owner I have gotten one of these before, for a beer we named "Biscuitville" mainly because my brewer used "biscuit malt" as a primary ingredient and because it was cute.  Well, there is a chain of breakfast joints in the Carolinas owned by law abiding, presumably married straight people named that too! Who'da guessed?!  The point of many "C&D" requests is to avoid public confusion. They had trademarked that name, yes, and shame on us for not doing due diligence and checking BUT now that I've had one I realize this whole "public confusion" thing is pretty silly.

I doubt very much that your average Ann Arborite will walk into my beer bar and be pissed when they can't get chicken on a homemade biscuit for their brekkie. Likewise I think many Carolinians be they North of South and (law abidingly married to a member of the opposite sex) aren't wandering into a Biscuitville joint at 9 a.m. on a Saturday and angry 'cause there is no Wolverine Lager to imbibe.  But that is the core argument of most C&Ds.

The National Association of Realtors (tm) has literally trademarked the WORD "Realtor (tm)." It Belongs To Them and Do Not Forget It. Even if you hold a real estate license to practice in most states you are very regulated in how you can use the word. Don't use it in websites or, truly THEY can say it best.  Even if you glance through these rules you MUST do so to see how very important it is to this group that you do it Their Way:
The Rules and Regs around the the use of the Word Realtor (tm)
Like I said (a lot) this week, I have used this to my advantage.  When I got the email, I was actually standing IN the office of my local Ann Arbor Area Board of Realtors (tm) and showed the staff. They were all "why?" And I was all "because I wrote these" and I showed them the Amazon link. Boom. Four sales instantly. Many many court battles have been waged over this. But a trademark is a trademark, it seems.

But, this latest thing affecting our own Adele (tm) Dubois is patently ridiculous.  It seems that there is a certain very famous and talented singer from England who has the same name (and no last name, but whatever).  Sony Corp (tm) has trademarked the word "Adele (tm)" and has issued a sort of scary informational letter (an initial C&D) to our beloved fellow author who has spent years building her own brand with her own name and is now being told, "Ah, no, you can't use our trademarked name." We wouldn't want to confuse any innocent consumer of grammy award winning music and award winning romance books about what exactly they are getting when they listen to Adele (tm) while reading Adele (tm) now would we?

NOTE: Part of the SONY complaint lists a URL that goes to a book by Marianne Stephens...and she owns the copyright. It has nothing to do with Adele. Marianne is attempting to seek legal counsel.

Mind boggling really.  Wonder what's next. Catholics everywhere must strike references of Madonna from their cannon?  All the cute guys named "Bruce" have to change their names to Bill?  All the high school athletic teams that have the word "Sting" in their names gotta come up with something else politically correct so no references to Native American tribes? And you will never, ever be able to be "gaga" over anything ever again...except when referring to the scary lady who never shows her face at award shows.
I mean I get it on a certain level. Companies and businesses (like ours) work very hard to establish themselves and their identities and spend many dollars on logos, images and what not. But really, Sony (tm) this is just too much.

Since Sony (tm) is on a trolling mission and Google (tm) is taking down posts  I may have this one struck as well so enjoy it while it lasts!


Proper Use of the trademarked word (that is to say my new cover sans the Special Word)


Miriam Newman said...

If someone with a crustal ball can predict what names will be off-limits twenty years from now, parents of newborns will beat a path to their door.

Paris said...

Great post, Liz! I know I did a search for my pen name but that was so I wouldn't be confused with another author. What's happening to Adele Dubois is ridiculous. Thanks for spreading the word.

Joanie said...

Ah yes...I wrote for one of the real estate mags back in the late-90s, and that was the very first thing I was told--that Realtor always had to be capitalized because they had trademarked the name. Up until that time I'd noticed it was always capitalized, but I innocently thought it was like when other professionals capitalize there names because they don't know the punctuation rules. So sorry you're week has been such a minefield.


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Pam said...

You blog is extremely funny and yet sad at the same time. When is all this "legal crap" going to stop? I get sick of the legal system coming up with new ways to determine what we can and can not do, say, or even feel.

Pam said...

You blog is extremely funny and yet sad at the same time. When is all this "legal crap" going to stop? I get sick of the legal system coming up with new ways to determine what we can and can not do, say, or even feel.

Harlie Reader said...

Too much time of their hands and too much money is their problem. *sigh* My name, Marika, is on a line of workout clothes and there is also an author with the same first name. Does it bother me? No. Am I throwing a fit? No.

My name is very common name in Eastern Europe. Its has common as Mary (which is the English translation)

I wish people would put better use of their time into something more worthwhile. Idiots...

(yes, my real name)

L.C.D. said...

I say well done! I think it's utterly ridonkulous that people will get their panties in a wad over something like the word on a book and a name. I thought that you can't have a trademarked name unless it was proven you had it first. For example - the lawsuit between the rapper The Game and the wrestler The Game. The courts ruled that the wrestler had it first, so the rapper lost. Does Adele the singer even KNOW that Phony Records is trying to trademark her name? What happens if she leaves the company? Does she have to change her name? Stupid, right? What about Charlaine Harris? She had a character in her books named Adele Stackhouse. Is she now going to be sued? This makes my head hurt. Even more than it already is.

Liz and Paris - might want to be careful. Your names might be next! lol. Elizabeth Taylor or Liz Claiborne could getcha next Liz, and Paris, there's a whole country that could come after you, not to mention several cities across the USA. Where does it stop?

What about all the spanish people with the name Jesus? You don't see HIM coming down and saying y'all are totally infringing on me.

Sorry for the extra ranting. I just think it's beyond stupid. Money hungry brastards*. you know, just in case google doesn't like swearing. lol

I still love ALL OF Y'ALL!!!

Liz said...

@LCD yeah, I'll take my chances! and yeah, my name really is "Liz"
@Joanie not only does Realtor (tm) have to be capitalized you are FORBIDDEN from using it unless along their sanctioned lines. hence my C&D this week.

Molly Daniels said...

LOL...I just did a search for 'Arbor University', which I invented in 1985...and on the first page, following a lot of links for 'Spring Arbor U', there is an online 'AU'. Hope I don't get sued for 'misrepresenting' a college! ROFL!

Christine Ashworth said...

I wonder if Adele herself is aware of this kerfluffle? I'll bet she'd be totally appalled. How could Sony even trademark her name - how could she LET them? That's like a marriage without a divorce - EVER. Gah. Poor Adele ... and poor Adele Dubois!

Quick! Someone call David Letterman and Jay Leno! This should be hitting ALL the comedy clubs...Sony is such a buffoon!

JoAnne Kenrick said...

Great post, Liz.
Here's the shocker out of all this, it's Adele (the author) real name.
The other thing, Adele has been a girl's name for a very long time. 600s or something? And originates from France. So, their trademark means diddlesquat. Any lawyer will tell you that. Hey, are they going to tell Molly Ringwald she has to change her daughter's name if she ever decides to become an actress or singer? Or what about all these famous folks with Adele for a name:

I could sorta understand it if the author Adele was just going by Adele. That might get confusing. But she isn't. Clearly Adele and Adele D are two very different people in two very different industries. Why the hell would anyone get them mixed up? Sony Entertainment needs to grow the hell up and get over their 'we are the powers that be' attitude.

Marianne Stephens said...

And part of this complaint listed a URL...that led to MY book and has nothing to do with Adele! I own the copyright to my book, so what's with SONY??

We're following information sources and will continue seeking assistance on Monday.


Good Lord, this is absolutely crazy what has happened to you, Marianne, and Adele. And all the wasted energy going into fixing the mess. You wanna say "Play nice, people." Oops, is people (tm). Thanks for a very good post, girl.

Michelle Miles said...

I call BS on Sony and Google for allowing this TM business to destroy the life of an author who has spent years building her brand, her name and her books. Total and utter BS. Should I change my name since it's Michelle and we all know there are lots of famous Michelles and The Beatles wrote a song about it?

I sincerely Sony gets the pants sued off their butts because THIS is dumb.

jean hart stewart said...

This is too stupid to deserve a comment.Stupid, stupid.

Anonymous said...

Love the post!When I chose my pen name I researched first and lasts to avoid duplications. I guess my Isabel is safe until I get super famous at the same time a one named singer Isabel does.

There are sooooo many issues in our world that mankind should be up in arms about. This is not one of them.

I'm curious though: what's the reason behind the National Assoc. of Realtors' need to trademark Realtor(tm)? I'm not aware of other professions that have done this. I'm a member of the Ntl. Music Teachers Assoc., past member of SAG,(Stage Actors Guild) and NEA (Ntl Educ. Assoc.). No trademark or capitalization required to be a musician, stage actress or teacher - or writer. Yet.

Donnell said...

What everyone else said, particularly Jean Hart Stewart. Stupid. The good news is I believe Google and Sony will rue the day they sent out such a frivolous C&D order. Best wishes and good karma to the affected authors.

Katalina Leon said...

I'm hoping we as a culture quickly outgrow this awkward stage of word ownership. I totally understand copyrighting an image and protecting a business name but possessing a word wholesale is crazy.
I just hope the artist formerly own as Prince dosen't start suing people for using question marks"?"

Liz said...

The reason given to me for the Realtor's ownership of their "word" is to maintain professionalism when using it. Frankly I made them sexy. Their loss.

Liz said...

The reason given to me for the Realtor's ownership of their "word" is to maintain professionalism when using it. Frankly I made them sexy. Their loss.

Janice Seagraves said...

Sony needs to read the Copy right laws and get it right!

I checked the U.S. Copyright Office official link and in their Q&A section it said this:

How do I copyright a name, title, slogan or logo?

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases.

Lisa Kessler said...

I think google makes it WAY too easy for huge companies like Sony to "Big Brother" all the little guys...

But there are a buttload of women out there named Adele, and just because you trademarked that name does not mean others can't use their names, right?

This is very lame!

Great blog post though!

Lisa :)

Karen H in NC said...

I'm sitting here in NC literally rolling on the floor...your timely references to the marital status of certain NC residents is just too much! (wipes tears from cheeks!) And I'm pissed I can't buy Wolverine Beer...I'm originally from MI! I guess I'll stop at a party store on my way to Flint to buy some for my kids. They like microbrews!

I'm also sitting here wondering why a legal C&D letter was sent via email. I would think if it was a legitimate C&D request, it should be sent via Certified USPS or some other type of carrier that requires you to sign for it so they have proof you received it.

Seems to me Google (tm) and Facebook (tm) need to get a life and stay out of ours. It is a shame that we have become so dependent on technology (is that a TM too?) that it is almost required to be part of the social media (did someone TM that yet?) and get sucked up in this! Oops...sorry, crap is a derivative of crapper and he invented the toilet...guess I can't use that word now either.

That means I can't say I enjoy reading books set in the Antebellum south anymore too. I can't use the Cash machine...oh wait, I can use it, I just can't say it or write it, right?

This all reminds me of a story I heard years ago after Chrysler (tm) bought out JEEP (rm). They served a guy in Montana or someplace in that area C&D papers because his nickname was Jeep and he owned a bar and he called his bar...what else? JEEP'S! They told him he couldn't use the name Jeep anymore! However, if memory serves me right, he went to court and proved that he was using the name Jeep (tm) longer than they did were so actually the corporation was in violation of using his name. He didn't make them stop using it though. Didn't demand royalties either. Big of him I thought.

OK, I think I've said all I want to say...for now anyway.

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks for posting about this, Liz. I'm a personal friend of Adele (tm) DuBois and this whole thing is so upsetting and outrageous. I doubt the singer Adele (tm) knows anything about this. I researched my pen name, Cara Marsi, before I took it. Nothing came up. That was several years ago. Last year I found out there's another Cara Marsi on FB so someone out there has the name. And I can't set up a FB page with my pen name. I understand about trademarks and protecting your brand, but this whole BS from Sony is just plain stupid.

Carolyn Matkowsky (my real name

Fran Lee said...

Copyright and "trademark" seem to be two very different things. apparently. While you cannot copyright a name, you apparently can "trademark" it. Okay...I am gonna trademark the name Fran Lee so I can sue all those others who are using it! Too bad if your real name is Fran Lee (tm), are gonna get a nasty letter from my lawyer. And I'm gonna make a billion. In fact, I plan to Google (tm) all the Fran Lee (tm) clones out there and make a couple million off each of them. Heck...there are at least five on Facebook (tm) alone! And how can we forget the delightful (now deceased) Popper Scooper (tm) lady who called herself Fran Lee (tm) but that wasn't her real name? LOL!

Anonymous said...

It's utterly ridiculous. How can we let them get away with this? Who's next if they do?

I am so sorry about everyone affected by this. It's total malarkey.

Anonymous said...

Hi Liz,

Liz Lipperman posted a link to this, and I follow her orders to the letter.

I really hope you fight this (both of them). You're spot on about the "likelihood of confusion" issue, which is an essential element of infringement. Not that it's cheap to press if you get sued, but rarely does the C&D turn uglier.

As for poor Adele, I don't know what the barristers in London have to say, but here in the US of A, the law is pretty iron clad that a person has an absolute right to use her name.

I am cheering that the Realtor thing earns you tons of free publicity.

Boone Brux said...

So next will probably be Romance R Us, because that is easily confused with Toys R Us! These issues are so ridiculous. Best of luck on your outcomes. Please keep us posted.

Lizzie Walker said...

Good grief! Liz, first, I am sorry for your troubles. Second, how do you put a trademark on one's imagination? Sigh. It seems to me that is is getting harder and harder for writers to be creative without having their hands slapped.

I am glad that you had an opportunity to change the title without further damage.

*will be checking all my work from now all*

SinMacD said...

I had to search out your blog directly because the Twitter(tm) link wouldn't work. Is Google(tm)after you already, too? Ridiculous. Corporate hive-mind idiocy at it's worst. If I can't copyright or trademark my book title, how can they possibly TM a name. Does this mean everyone ever named Adele(tm) must now change their given name. Is Sony is prepared to pay for all of those legal name changes? Can they be counter-sued for undue hardship to every person named Adele(tm) who must endure, "Oh! You have the same name as that singer!" every time they introduce themselves, to someone who's heard of this singer?
What nonsense!

Lynne Kensington said...

Oh Lord(tm). I'm not going to get into trouble(tm) for using the name Kensington(tm?), am I? I only chose the name because it was one of the few I googled(tm) that came up with no one else by that name.

Mike said...

When I was in real estate, I learned that "Realtor" was a neologism created by real estate agents for their organization. So that would clearly be a case where a trademark was used without permission. I still can't see what the deal is with Sony and Adele Dubois.

Bella Street said...

In the same way, you can no longer use 'Heimlich maneuver' without TM infringement, according to friends and family taking first-aid courses. It's now the 'abdominal thrust manuever'.

It's enough to make a sane person choke!

Kemberlee said...

For what it's worth, Adele the singer (Adele Adkins) must know by now what's happening unless she's living in a bubble. She's probably been strongly advised not to say anything on the matter if she wants to keep her contract. Just as I'm sure happened when Adele Sande started performing and was urged to change her name. She now performs as Emeli Sande! She graciously says it was her idea, as Adele Adkins was using it first, even though Sande is older than Adkins.

This is total insanity. Adele is a name and thousands of women have it and use it professionally. If everyone could trademark their names, I'd be in line. Maybe I should anyway since this seems to be the way of the future.

{btw, you missed a (tm) at Wolverine ;-) But that opens a whole other kettle of fish as a wolverine is a member of the weasel family, and Latin meaning glutton . . . certainly not the Hugh Jackman look I was going for!}

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