Editing Tip #26

Beware of Branding ~

no brandingWe all do it; we all have a tendency in our day-to-day life to refer to brand-name products:

Kleenex instead of Tissue

Coke instead of Cola

Tupperware instead of Plastic Container

Kool Aid instead of Drink Mix

You get the idea.  The problem is, this casual naming of items creeps into our writing sometimes and that’s no good.

We can get sued.

I’m not kidding.  The big brand-names we bandy about without a second thought are copyrighted.  That means, if we try to publish a manuscript with one or more of these names mentioned – even in casual dialogue – without the express permission of the company, we can be sued.

We’re poor, struggling writers to begin with, the last thing we need is a lawsuit on our hands for a simple mistake.  So be especially careful when you edit: look for those sneaky brand-names that could literally make or break you as an author and swap them out for their generic identifier instead… or make up a name of your own that gets the same idea across.

Happy Editing!

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Categories: Editing

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6 replies

  1. Ya’d think they would like the publicity. 🙂

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  2. I know, but often they can make more money by suing your a** than letting mention of their product slip under the radar – lol!

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  3. Why would they sue a “poor struggling writer”? You can’t get blood from a stone, or money from a poor struggling writer! I’ve also seen plenty of big name authors use brand names like Coke, Pepsi, Nike, etc. all the time. I think it just depends how you use them. There’s “fair use” which is okay, and then there’s misusing brand names to refer to a generic, like using “Kleenex” for a generic tissue, which the company has to vigorously attack in order to maintain their trademark.

    By the way, a famous writer, a bestselling author, told me (when I identified his antagonist as a thinly disguised George Soros with the letters switched around) that he HOPES George Soros recognizes it and sues him, because it would help his book sales tremendously! I could say his name but then I’d be giving the book undue publicity.

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    • Good point, David.
      The examples I have used show a deliberate misuse of the brand-name and that is what should be avoided. However, if you are going to refer to a brand-name on purpose, you should still run it by a rep from that company. They don’t want any kind of negative connotation associated with their branding. Big name authors have people (like agents and in-house editors) to do this for them – Indie authors will have to do it for themselves.
      While I agree with you that you ‘can’t get blood from a stone’ if you are found guilty of using the name without permission the courts can garnish your wages until you’ve paid what you owe. This has happened before and likely will happen again to poor unsuspecting authors. If you’re going to break the rules, you should at least be aware of them first 🙂

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  4. I was actually rooting for Apple to come after me for using “iCandidate.” So far, no dice. That said, all good advice. The brands I do mention in any book are used positively, and I never use a product name as a moniker for a generic product because many companies are militant about their trademarks not becoming fair use.

    In those cases, I am not sure they would sue you unless you don’t comply with the cease and desist letter that would come first.

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  5. Unfortunately, Mikael, I don’t know the exact details of the case I’m referring to – the author only wanted to share so much. What you say is very sound and should always be taken into consideration. As authors we can’t afford to leave things to chance 🙂

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