Being Cocky in the Social Media Age

By now, most of you have heard about #Cockygate. If not, let me catch you up to speed:

Romance author, Faleena Hopkins, filed a trademark on the word “cocky.” Once her trademark was approved, Faleena allegedly sent cease and desist letters to other authors who happened to have the word “cocky” in the titles of their books. There have been reports that she also asked Amazon to remove some of these books, though I’m not sure how many authors have been affected by this. Faleena has said she trademarked “cocky” in order to protect her series and her brand. She says her readers were getting confused because when they searched for her books, they stumbled upon books written by other authors.

Over the past several days, authors have been furious… and frightened too. What gives Faleena the right to trademark a commonly used word? A word, in fact, that other authors had used in titles on their books long before Faleena Hopkins had ever published? And, what if someone else decides to trademark other commonly used words?

In response to the chaos caused by #Cockygate, the RWA is looking into the matter. Yesterday, an indie author and patent attorney filed a legal petition to cancel the trademark. There is also an online petition circulating around the internet that many authors have signed.

Anyway, while there is a lot I’d like to say about this situation, most of it has already been said by others more knowledgeable and eloquent than me. Instead, I’m going to talk about what it means to be an author in these crazy and exciting times where news travels faster than my dog when she sees a squirrel and anyone with an internet connection can have their opinion heard (or read). I love the internet and social media, but there are definite risks associated when you “put yourself out there.”

As writers, we lay our souls bare when we publish our books. It’s depressing and upsetting when our books are criticized, but it happens and we have to accept it. Being an author is a risk. If we write something that offends someone, they have the right to criticize us or judge us. They can leave a poor review on our books, or they can write something on their own social media account or blog.

Now, the reason I bring this up in relation to the Faleena Hopkins situation is because she left a lengthy video on her Facebook page (which has since been removed) claiming that she has been terribly bullied. While I have no doubt that some people stepped over the line (as some people tend to do), I want to point out that Faleena took a risk the day she filed that trademark. No – she took a risk of being ridiculed and criticized the day she decided to become a writer. We all did.

While I would never condone threatening behavior or attacks on an author’s family and friends, there are some behaviors that are not considered “bullying.” A bad review is not bullying (though I do agree that using one-star reviews as a revenge tactic is pretty crappy). If someone says or writes something negative in response to something you did or said, it’s not bullying. If someone disagrees with you, guess what? That’s not bullying either.

Every word you write – whether it’s part of a published novel or a Facebook post – is subject to scrutiny by the people who read it. If you don’t want people to judge you by what you write, you really shouldn’t be a published writer.

In a world where people are so active on social media and where information is at our fingertips, it doesn’t take long for writers to find out what’s going on our community. When someone tries to game the bestseller list or trademarks a commonly used word, people find out about it pretty quickly. People have opinions and when it comes to writers, we don’t mince words in voicing our opinions on our various platforms. When we feel as if our fellow writers are being threatened, we speak out because we know bad things can happen to us too. Or, maybe bad things have happened to us in the past and it was our writer friends who stood by us and helped us through.

Being a writer isn’t easy. It takes a certain amount of confidence to query a publisher or to hit the “publish” button on KDP. It takes courage to contact a book reviewer or to sit behind a table at a book signing. Confidence and courage are excellent qualities to have if you’re a writer, but when you cross the line to “cocky,” that’s when you get yourself in trouble. Because no one is above a bad review or a critique. And, if we make a mistake, we should own up to it and try to rectify it because being tried in the court of public opinion on social media comes with a very steep price to our confidence and our brand.

 

19 thoughts on “Being Cocky in the Social Media Age

  1. I am trying to count how time you used the word ”cocky”. Lol
    On a serious note, I found it funny and unfair for one person to trademarked a word.

    Thanks
    Ebrima
    Author

    Like

    • It’s only a trademark violation if I try to publish a romance novel with “cocky” in the title. You’re right. It’s very unfair, especially to the authors who have already published books with that word in the title. It’s costs a lot of money for an author to pay their cover artist to change a title, not to mention paying the formatter to change the inside. I can’t imagine how costly it is if there are audio books involved.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said. That the trademark was granted is beyond me. When D. Trump tried to copyright the phrase, “You’re fired,” he was denied on the basis that it was a commonly used term in the vernacular. This should have been the answer to the request to trademark a common word.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s beyond me why the trademark was ever granted – absolutely ridiculous. I also can’t fathom why writers who were using the word long before Ms Hopkins came along have to remove it from their work. I suspect that eventually the trademark will be removed, but in the meantime this fiasco is causing a lot of heartache, not to mention expense to some writers. Hopefully this will not happen again and Ms Hopkins will remember that “all publicity is good publicity” is not true. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I don’t think the Trademark office has the resources to carefully review every application they receive. I suspect they just take the money, process the paperwork, and let the court sort it out later if there is a problem. But, you’re right. The trademark on the name of the full series sounds reasonable, but the trademark on a common name used by many authors should never have been granted.

        You’re also right that this has caused heartache and financial hardship for many authors. I think it absolutely WILL happen again unless we continue to spread the word about this incident. The trademark office needs to change their procedures to be a lot more cautious about what they are approving. There is currently a legal petition to cancel the trademark. There is also an online petition that authors are signing. My fear is that scammers are going to try to file for trademarks on other common words, then with their trademark certificate in hand, demand that Amazon start removing books. What if these scammers start charging authors to use “their” words? This whole mess has the potential to get worse, I’m afraid.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Brilliant post Tricia, as always. But yes, I’m utterly astonished and almost lost for words over it! I just read Kristen Lamb’s take on it too and didn’t realise the nasty threatening letters this author sent out to other authors threatening to sue them if they didn’t change the title of their works, regardless of whether those works predated when Ms Hopkins ‘trademarked’ her word and regardless of the massive costs the poor authors would incur in having to re-do all their covers etc. The sheer stunning arrogance of it! Wow. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot, or in her case, nuking her entire writing career in one fell swoop! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Trademarking a word in common use is called trademark squatting, I believe. In theory it should be impossible to trademark common every day words like this. I just assumed she succeeded because she filed it in the US which is quite litigious by the rest of the world’s standards. I thought the trademark was for Cocky Brothers anyway, which is the name of a series. Having filed my own trademark, before now, I can confirm that she shouldn’t be able to serve take down notices to pre-existing titles.

    Where I smell a rat is that wasn’t she at the centre of some other scandal recently? She comes over as a bit narcissistic and whether or not her actions are ‘legal’ they definitely sit in an … well, shall we call it an ethically grey area? In case her lawyers are reading. A business with this approach is not something I would want to be involved in or associated with.

    Cheers

    MTM

    Liked by 1 person

    • I honestly don’t know how she was successful with her trademark of “cocky,” but I can only assume the trademark office doesn’t do a thorough review. They just process the applications and take the money. I don’t have a problem with her trademarking “The Cocky Series” as a whole or “Cocker Brothers Series.” That totally makes sense from a branding standpoint and I don’t think there are any series out there titled in such a way. The problem is the wordmark trademark of “cocky” because that (possibly) prevents others from using that word in the titles of their books. The other problem is that she sent cease and desist letters to authors and had their books removed from Amazon. She has cost many authors heartache and financial loss.

      I’m not sure if she had been involved in other scandals. I’ve been out of the loop lately. With the trademark issue, she has definitely alienated a lot of authors, readers, and other industry watchdogs. This is a huge issue for all authors – not just indies – and sets a scary precedent. The trademark office needs to do a better job in reviewing applications. This should never have happened.

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  4. This is totally hilarious. What a waste of energy and money.
    I took the trouble finding a title for my book with the word ‘mirrors’ that was not used by some business or pop group. It would never have occurred to me to trademark the word ‘mirror.’
    For example, if you type the word ‘Apple’ into Google, you immediately get Apple Inc.- the American multinational technology company, but used in another context, the word would not constitute a violation – not matter how clever a concept that bite out of the apple (stolen from paradise) was. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did a Google search before titling my books. Many of my titles have been used by other authors. It’s almost impossible to find a title that hasn’t been used by someone. If this author had done a Google or Amazon search for her titles, she would have discovered other authors (way before her time) had used “cocky” in their titles. How she came to the belief that she somehow owned the word is beyond me. Some people are absolutely baffling.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a bit in shock that “cocky” was trademarked! Sometimes businesses go through that process and are denied so to have that one go through… wow. I agree with what you say Tricia about ridicule being a part of bearing our souls as a writer. But, you know what, it’s a bit of a compliment when there’s such a fuss about something we’ve written as it means we have influence… I just want to make sure that my influence is positive 😉 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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