Anyone in the small and indie book-publishing community knows how hard it can be as a new or small author to get your name and your series off the ground. No matter how good your book is, one of the most important skills you need to learn as an author isn’t “how to write better,” although that one tops the list, most definitely.
No, it’s actually “how to create a brand and market yourself.”
And since authors are a notoriously introverted bunch who don’t do so well with being forced to tell other people how great they should think we are and to please buy our books, this can be problematic, to say the least.
For those who visit cons, attend writers’ groups and conferences, you typically learn that the writing community is full of wonderful, supportive people who love their fellow authors and encourage aspiring writers. Really.
In general, the indie market is filled with these awesome authors. So it came as a surprise to everyone when authors started complaining about getting letters threatening legal action against them because their books had the word “cocky” in the title.
Author Faleena Hopkins, a woman who will now go down in infamy, recently started sending cease & desist letters to any other romance author with the word “cocky” in their book’s title, demanding that they change the title immediately because she had copyrighted the word. Yes. She actually went and got a copyright on the word “cocky,” all in an attempt to have the word solely associated with her “Cocker Brothers” series of romance novels. And the first thing she did was go and threaten other authors—even those whose books were published before her trademark—with legal action if they didn’t remove any instances of the word from their titles.
In a way, it seems like a brilliant move. But there’s a reason that people don’t get to copyright common words or phrases and charge money every time someone says it.
It’s a simple case of Faleena misunderstanding what her copyright is actually for. And now that she’s unanimously become the face of evil that indie authors everywhere are uniting against, it’s important to know why Hopkins will lose every court case, no questions asked.
Copyrighting is one of those things that many people don’t think about. Intellectual property (IP) rules can sometimes be confusing, but when it comes to ownership, possession is, as they say nine-tenths of the law. When it’s a totally new idea or concept, that is. So just how was Faleena Hopkins able to copyright a word that’s been around for hundreds of years?
Hopkins did go and get two copyrights regarding the word cocky, it’s true. However, her first copyright was strictly in the use of “a series of downloadable e-books in the field of romance”—not for any and all usage of the word. And that was only in a “particular stylized form of the word,” which she also had the copyright for. However, therein also lies the problem.
When you copyright a word, like “Apple” did for computers, you have to show that your usage of the word is specific, unique, and unlike the common word. This is the reason that Apple got the copyright for computers and software, but you don’t have to pay $19.99 for every apple you buy from the Apple store.
In Faleena’s case, her first copyright was for the word “cocky” in a romance e-book series, in a stylized form. It only covers that single, particular use. Which means that other authors are not infringing on her use of it unless they copy it exactly, in stylized form, in romance novels. Someone could literally write a book of any genre, name it “Cocky,” and have a block-letter form of the word and they still wouldn’t be infringing on her copyright in the slightest.
The second issue is the stylized form of the word itself, which Faleena Hopkins did actually get a copyright on… Even though she doesn’t own the rights to the font that she copyrighted, which will immediately null any copyright she filed.
Someone took the time to track down the font that she used and find out where it came from. The artist’s website says specifically that no one may copyright a word with their font, since the font is already trademarked to the artist, and is only licensed to the user.
So Faleena’s entire argument for trying to steal royalties from other authors is moot. She didn’t have permission to copyright to begin with. And now, not only does she have thousands of indie authors up in arms against her, but the Romance Writers of America (RWA) is even speaking to the ones that Hopkins threatened in order to bring an IP suit against her.
So yes, #Cockygate may sound really stupid, but there’s an important lesson to learn from it:
There’s nothing wrong with trying to protect a brand that you’ve created, but trying to screw other authors out of doing the same and threatening to steal their money isn’t the way to do it.
And also, before you send out cease and desist letters, you should probably make sure that you understand copyrights and have permission to use them to begin with.
Follow #CockyGate and #ByeFaleena (my new favorite tag) on Twitter for more amazing responses to this ridiculous scandal.