I’m sure that a lot of people are going to be confused by that title, and probably find it funny. Unfortunately, this is a serious topic that requires some discussion, so I thought I’d take a couple minutes to spread the word on what’s been going on.

Recently, it’s come to light that a romance writer named Faleena Hopkins placed a trademark on the word “cocky” (as in…you know), and has allegedly been sending cease and desist letters to authors who use the word “cocky” in their book titles. Of which there are many, and according to the letters, this is a form of copyright infringement, and authors should change the names of their stories or face the consequences. From what’s been going around, most of the authors who have received these letters are not big enough to actually take on a legal battle with other authors, rather than any big names in the romance field.

This is some grade-A bull. You can’t just copyright a single word and tell people they can’t use it in their book titles. You can copyright a specific word or words using a specific font (like nobody can use the word “Potter” with the Harry Potter-title lightning bolt script or the words “Star” or “Wars” with the Star Wars script without incurring the wrath of JK Rowling or Lucasfilm’s representatives), which is normal business practice. However, you can’t just copyright a single word, no matter the font, font size, or context, and say anyone who uses it in a story’s title is committing plagiarism or copyright infringement. Which is why nobody can sue me for naming my novel Snake, or why when Rose comes out, nobody can sue me for naming it that way.

And you know who else agrees with me? Lots of other authors, apparently. When I saw this trending on Twitter, I got curious and found plenty of other writers who were willing to explain to me what was going on and point me to links which went further into detail about this issue, which has been dubbed Cockygate, and who have also made the hashtags #cockygate and #ByeFaleena (get it?) trending topics. Thanks to them, I was able to find this article from Pajiba, as well as this video from author Bianca Sommerland, one of the first to break the story open. And the consensus seems to be the same as my opinion of this situation: it’s grade-A bull, and kind of sounds like bullying or blackmail.

I mean, imagine if this was allowed to happen. We could copyright all sorts of words, and anyone using those words would owe me money. I mean, imagine if I trademarked the word “the.” So many people would owe me money, it would be ridiculous! I’d have good friends and big names who would be liable to legal action for a commonly-used word. It’s ridiculous.

And apparently the Romance Writers’ Association is getting involved now, because they’ve been consulting with an IP lawyer and are asking anyone who’s received one of these cease and desist letters to send information and screenshots to Carol Ritter, their Deputy Executive Director (carol.ritter@rwa.org). That’s how seriously this is being taken.

Hopkins herself, who in the past has also claimed that anyone who uses stock photos (so everybody, basically) after she uses them is copying her (say what?), has taken to social media to defend herself. She hasn’t denied that she’s trademarked “cocky,” but has said that she’s done it because some of her readers have downloaded ebooks with the word “cocky” in the title thinking it’s related to her Cocky Brothers series, only to find out it’s someone else’s book. She’s also called those calling her out as “bullies.” First off, you can return downloaded ebooks and purchase the right one. And I’m sure the majority of your readers are generally intelligent people. They can figure that out for themselves. And second, if you really are doing something shady, then the people who object to it aren’t bullies. They’re legitimately upset.

In a way, this reminds me of Lani Sarem, the author who tried to game the New York Times bestseller list and fell hard (you can read my articles on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors about that little incident by clicking here and here). She too engaged in something that rang of dishonesty in order to ensure the success of her work. People online found out and started investigating and spreading the word, leading to her book being removed from the NYT bestseller list, and her name becoming something of a joke. We’re seeing something similar here, only what Ms. Hopkins is allegedly doing is even worse, because it affects the most vulnerable authors out there by threatening them with legal action.

As this is still the early stages of this controversy, we’re bound to see further developments. And whatever happens, I hope a message is sent far and wide. We authors are usually a supportive bunch. But if we find out one of our own is doing something awful for the sake of money or fame, we will not take that sitting down. We will push back, and the offenders will not like that. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword, is it not?

Please contact Carol Ritter at carol.ritter@rwa.org if you or someone you know has received one of these cease and desist letters. You don’t have to live in fear of legal action. You can take the power back.

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Comments
  1. This is so infuriating and sickening. Usually when “drama” is occurring, it’s indie-specific. This is going to affect many authors, traditionally published as well. I can only assume (though I don’t know, really) that the cease and desist letters are primarily targeting indie authors who don’t have clout or money to fight this. I hope some of the major trad-publishers get on board with challenging this absurd trademark. How can someone trademark a word?

    • Legally, they can’t. And I’ve heard that indie authors are among those being targeted, and just for that reason.

      • You’re right, Rami. Indies are likely being targeted because they don’t have a big publisher and their legal team to back them up. I doubt this would be enforceable in court if it came to that, but many people don’t have money to hire a lawyer to fight, so they just change their book title in order to make it all go away. Also, most people are intimidated when they receive a letter from a lawyer threatening to sue them. I feel so sorry for all the authors who are being targeted by Faleena and her bullying campaign.

      • And that’s why the RWA is getting involved. Hopefully it leads to a positive outcome.

  2. I never thought I’d see something like this in a million years. I am in shock.

    • Which is why I’m spreading the word. It’s disgusting, and we need to make sure this sort of behavior doesn’t go unpunished.

      • Here’s another video Bianca Sommerland posted today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dR39dezDI6s I was looking on Twitter and Facebook. Now I’m looking on You Tube to find out more about this. So Faleena Hopkins is saying she copyrighted the word “Cocky” regardless of font, and this is specifically for romance books. Bianca posted a copy of the cease and desist letter one of the authors got in the video I just linked to. I’m just now starting to wrap my mind around this issue, and the more I learn, the nastier this whole thing is. No author should go around telling others they can’t use a certain word in the title. I hope RWA protects the innocent authors. I don’t want to see this become a trend.

      • Me either. And BTW, if you look through my comments, you’ll see she’s already getting some comeuppance.

  3. Reblogged this on Tricia Drammeh and commented:
    Rami Ungar discusses a shocking development in the writing community.

  4. Piroska says:

    Apparently, the trademark of “cocky” was made with a font, who’s developer (artist?) specifically states that one can’t use his font for any trademark. He has become aware of the situation, and hopefully can get Amazon to take down Ms. Cocky’s books for infringement!
    Karma…

  5. piroska says:

    Apparently, the trademark of “cocky” was made with a font, who’s developer (artist?) specifically states that one can’t use his font for any trademark. He has become aware of the situation, and hopefully can get Amazon to take down Ms. Cocky’s books for infringement!
    Karma…

  6. Here’s a petition to cancel her trademark on the word “Cocky”. I just signed it. https://petitions.moveon.org/sign/cancel-faleena-hopkins?source=s.fb&r_hash=gou0zrNk Let me know if the link doesn’t work.

    I don’t want other authors to start doing this kind of thing to other authors. This is just too scary. Thanks for alerting me to this, Rami!

  7. Casey Hagen says:

    She did not copyright it…guys, this needs to be kept straight. She trademarked it. Copyright, trademark, patents, they’re all different things. If we don’t want to be viewed negatively, we need to be using the correct terms.

  8. This is a really good video about the situation. Author Kevin Kneupper, who is also a lawyer who’s filed a petition to remove the trademark from “cocky”, gives a good legal analysis of this situation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7CXwJwm8ek

  9. […] Rami Ungar the Writer: Why You Can’t Copyright an Often-Used Word in Book Titles […]

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