(UPDATED) An open letter to Christine Feehan.

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12/5/2019 Update:

It looks like Christine Feehan HAS pulled the one-word trademark applications. She also posted a statement on Twitter apologizing for it. Susan Tisdale posted a video on Facebook, where she states she spoke to Feehan on the phone, and Feehan said it was a horrible mistake, that she was just following advice her attorney gave her, and she felt badly about it. (There’s more there, but go watch it for yourself. It’s on Susan Tisdale’s Facebook profile.) So it looks like this was a horrible blunder, but a mistake nonetheless. I’m glad we were wrong in assuming the worst about her, but a huge shout out to the romance community and the writing community in general for rising up to protest this. Hopefully, she fires her attorney and gets a better one, because the one she’s got now has done irreparable damage to her brand.

And before any of you pile on and attack the writers who were involved in this, remember that writers’ livelihoods were damaged by the #cockygate fight, the writers who were attacked by Faleena Hopkins. Abusive and overreaching trademark applications are a danger to writers’ careers, as well as to free speech in general. It’s NOT an overreaction to pile on and demand an abusive application be pulled.

Pay attention, authors. Follow the Cockybot on Twitter, which posts TM filings: https://twitter.com/cockybot


Whelp, here we go again. Remember #cockygate? (Here and here for the tl;dr.)

Apparently, popular traditionally pubbed author Christine Feehan hasn’t. Or else she thinks she’s too big to be negatively impacted.

Ummm…

She’s filed for trademarks on single words like “dark” and “Carpathian” and “leopard.”

Single.

Words.

Just…fuck. Really?

Worse, when confronted about it, she posted a very disingenuous comment on her Twitter feed.

If you can’t read it, it says:

Following advice from my attorney, I recently filed federal trademark applications for each of my series. My goal is to protect my right to use the series names under which I’ve been writing novels in other areas such as graphic novels, film, and television. I fully support the notion that trademark law does NOT extend protection to book titles for a single book, nor would it ever be my intention to prohibit another author from using a word like dark or leopard as part of a book title.

*sigh* Where do I begin?

For starters, you cannot trademark a common word. The Ohio State was the latest entity to find that out.

#cockygate was all about Faleena Hopkins trademarking the word “cocky” and then issuing bogus C&Ds against other authors. The problem is, those authors were harmed financially, both by lost sales when Amazon pulled the books and basically said, “Handle it yourselves and get back to us with legal papers,” and by spending money in legal fees, cover reformatting, etc. The RWA even got involved.

At least this time it was caught in the application process, meaning we can all file challenges against it.

The word “dark” is in some of her titles, but it’s not the entire series name. If she wanted to trademark “The Dark Carpathians Series” or something like that, no problem, go for it. But trying to trademark single, common words like “dark” and “leopard” is not only an overreach of trademark troll proportions, it’s fundamentally stupid both for legal and PR reasons.

Secondly, Christine Feehan’s OWN PUBLISHER lists her latest release as “A Carpathian Novel.” They’ve been known as “The Dark Carpathians” or some variation thereof for a long damn time. (See this link on Penguin Random House’s site.) According to some people, the listings on Amazon did NOT used to have “dark” in the series name, or if they did, it was added later, as were the quote marks around the word. So that’s apparently a recent edit to the listings. The word “dark” might be in titles, but you CANNOT copyright/trademark titles. Period.

She’s also trying to trademark other common words (thanks to Ella Drake):

Um… Leopard? Really? She’s going to try to trademark that?? And Carpathian speaks to a real-world region, and I think they’re going to have a few things to say about her trying to appropriate that for her sole commercial use.

Thirdly, she says she’s not going to prohibit authors from using a word in “titles.” She conspicuously leaves out “series names.” Which, I think authors like Stephen King might have something to say if she tries to go after them for having “dark” in their series name. (Hello there, Dark Shadows, The Dark Knight, etc etc etc) There are plenty of series with the word “dark” in the series name that pre-date her series.

Fourthly, if you file for a trademark and are awarded that trademark, you are legally OBLIGATED to defend it. Otherwise, you can lose it. Meaning either she filed these herself without really asking her attorney to do it for her, or her attorney is a trademark troll eagerly rubbing their hands together thinking about how much money they’re going to rake in sending out C&D requests to other authors, OR her attorney is an idiot who needs a few more units in IP law, because they’re not used to dealing with it. I cannot imagine an honest IP attorney would have filed this trademark. So her claims that she won’t go after people don’t hold water. At all. Not from a logical viewpoint, and not from a legal viewpoint. If her attorney did file these on her behalf, she needs to fire them, demand a refund of all fees paid, and demand they immediately pull the filings. And then she needs to find a new IP attorney.

Dear Christine Feehan,

We’ve never met, but I know there are lots of disappointed readers out there today, and some of us are fellow authors. What you’re doing is punching down.

We’ve been here, done this, and…

Oh, honey. No. Just no. I assume you’ve been living in a cave and didn’t hear about the first round of #cockygate, or about The Ohio State University losing a similar battle recently, or any number of other cases where it’s been established that you cannot trademark a single, common word.

You need to apologize and pull the applications. They aren’t going to pass, because you’ve just enraged all of us who fought in #cockygate against Faleena Hopkins. You’ve just created a TON of bad PR for yourself. And whatever financial benefits you thought you were creating for yourself, you just completely negated it, and then some, by pissing everyone off.

Your readers are smart enough to figure out what books are yours. They are capable enough to look up your pen name. Assuming they aren’t is just dumb on your part. Frankly, it’s an insult to your readers. We’ve been here before, and during the first #cockygate readers spoke up by the thousands to express outrage that another writer would try to punch down on other writers while assuming the readers aren’t smart enough to tell one author’s books from another.

If you were short-sighted enough not to think to brand your series better from the inception, that’s not the fault of other authors–that’s on you and your publisher. Brand them “The Dark Carpathians” and file for THAT. Do not file for single, common words. Just don’t. Because it will not pass. It won’t. And you’re going to cost yourself far more in PR, lost sales, and legal fees than you will regain in “brand protection.”

Chalk this up to a very embarrassing lesson learned, apologize, and do better. You can still redeem yourself. Don’t double down on this on the advice of an attorney who obviously does NOT have your best interests at heart. If they did, they never would have filed this in the first place. If you filed it yourself, that was a painful stove-touching lesson you just gave yourself. Don’t do that again. Pull these applications, file for the accurate series name–the FULL series name–and stop trying to land-grab common words. Faleena Hopkins learned this lesson when she tried to retroactively change her book/series names and she flamed out miserably.

Please don’t repeat her mistake. Because you might be beloved by many in the romance world, but we (authors AND readers) are ready to defend authors from this kind of abusive overreach, and you will not win.

Sincerely,

Lesli Richardson/Tymber Dalton. (Author AND reader.)


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(UPDATED) An open letter to Christine Feehan.
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