Last weekend, the romance world was sent into a spin after it was discovered an author had successfully trademarked the word “cocky” and was now issuing cease and desist notices to other romance authors whose books contained the word in the title.
In the world of romance novels, there are certain words that are associated with the genre. As soon as readers see certain words within titles, they know exactly what they are getting. Romance, in general, is a genre where it is important to make your sub-genre of romance known as soon as a reader sees the cover. But what if someone were to trademark one of the common descriptive words?
Faleena Hopkins did just that when she trademarked the word “cocky,” as both a font specific word and the word itself. The Guardian lists this trademark as being issued in April 2018. This meant that not only was the word in association with its identifying font trademarked, but the word “cocky” in any format was also included.
However, this trademark is genre specific and relates to the word being used in romance book series, not standalone books. Regardless, it set a worrying precedent considering it was the word and not the identifying font tied into the word that was trademarked. After all, imagine if people started to successfully trademark other common usage words? From the perspective of the person owning those words, people would then have to seek permission and pay to use these words in relation to their own book titles. In effect, an author might never need to write another book if they managed to trademark words such as “vampire,” “shapeshifter,” or “reverse harem.” Instead, they could make an income on the licensing of the trademarked words.
While Hopkins may have trademarked the word last month, it was only recently that other authors became aware of it after cease and desist notices were issued. The author sent out notifications to those authors who had used “cocky” in their romance book titles from after the date her series was developed. In the letter, Hopkins requested authors remove the offending word from their book titles and swap it out for a new title. Some authors, scared of legal proceedings, undertook the huge task of changing their covers, internal book matter, and all promotional and advertising related to the title.
Once this unusual trademark came to light, shocked authors started discussing the implications on Twitter. Instantly, the hashtags #cockygate and #byefaleena were created in order to keep track of the whole situation.
It has since been discovered that the author may have trademarked a font that is not allowed under its licensing to be trademarked. However, even if this is the case, the word itself is still trademarked.
As the situation unfolded, Romance Writers of America (RWA) took up the gauntlet in fear that the trademark was setting a terrible precedent. They requested any author affected by the situation to contact them so they could offer support.
Along with this, some legal professionals, after hearing about cockygate, are now attempting to have the trademark registration overturned. They are citing the fact that everyday words cannot be trademarked without other qualifiers such as font or stylized design.
As a result of the situation, Amazon started pulling titles of books containing the word “cocky” in its title, likely in response to Faleena’s notification that she had trademarked the word. Many authors, some who had even started using the word in their series well before Hopkins ever had, suddenly found their books frozen and a resultant loss of income.
In addition, it appears Amazon also started freezing books that used the term “cocky” as a keyword descriptive. Reviewers also reported that some of their reviews had been pulled because they used “cocky” as a descriptive.
However, thanks to RWA’s involvement, Amazon has since reinstated these books until the situation has been resolved fully.
As for romance authors, well, they have rallied together. There have been offers to redesign romance covers free of charge for those affected. Others, outraged with the situation, have skirted around the trademark ruling in defiance. A group of authors are currently gathering short stories using the word “cocky” as the theme to produce a standalone anthology that will not encroach on Faleena’s trademark since it directly relates to romance series titles and not standalone books.
One author renamed her book that had been issued a cease and desist notice with a much cockier title. Another, managed to slap together a parody book called C*cky Author, and is now making a tidy sum of money on Amazon if its ranking is anything to go by.
While this situation is still unfolding and is in early days yet, it seems the furor will not die down for some time as romance authors fight for the freedom to use the single word “cocky.”