I have been fascinated, amused, worried, and angry over the continuing #cockygate saga. It basically boils down to this: author Faleena Hopkins successfully trademarked the word “cocky”. She has written a series of books (seventeen as of today) that involves a fictional family called the Cocker Brothers.
First, let me get this out of the way: trademarking a word is perfectly legal, and allowed. Apple has a trademark on, well, “Apple”, so does Target, the retailer. It makes good business sense to trademark your “mark” and your name as it relates to the mark. But here’s what Faleena’s lawyer(s) didn’t tell her, or at least Faleena didn’t bother to listen to them. There is a limit to a trademark and the rights given to the holder of the trademark. For instance, Apple was only able to trademark the name because it didn’t relate nor did it sell apples. Instead, its name, product and trademark relates only to computers and other related items. Apple (the company) cannot tell people to suddenly stop using the word “apple”, neither could Apple have successfully trademarked their mark if it sold apples rather than electronics. Why? Because it would bar other producer/seller of apples from using the word. Trademark is there to protect your unique mark, not to kill your competition.
So, yes, technically the word “cocky”can be trademarked, and Hopkins did. She trademarked the common mark of “Cocky” and a stylized form of “Cocky” using a particular font. Currently, the second trademark of the stylized “Cocky” is on shaky grounds as the maker of the font Hopkins used claims that based on the TOS of her purchase of the font, she was specifically barred from using the font in a trademark. This additional morass really shows you how sloppy Hopkins’ execution has been regarding this entire trademark fiasco. That, or Hopkins simply didn’t care that she was violating the terms under which she acquired the font. But here’s where Hopkins’ trademark went very, very wrong. She decided on her own (no attorney letterhead because I suspect no lawyer worth their salt wanted to sign off on it), to send a cease and desist letter to any author that had the word “Cocky” in it, regardless whether the said book predated her own. The poorly written email threatened legal and monetary penalties for the continued use of the word “cocky”.
Hopkins, unfortunately, underestimated her peers, or she may have overestimated her own legal standing. The authors she contacted pushed back. Part of this push back was sharing Hopkins’ email via social media. The reaction was swift, universal, and very negative.
Here came the next series of mistakes Hopkins made:
- She posted on Twitter an almost apathetic response to the negative reactions, compounding it by saying she’ll be eating “chocolate chip mint ice cream”. A definite statement that she didn’t care of the shit storm that started out of her own actions.
- But her “I don’t care” attitude was only a facade because she cared enough to create a rambling, sometimes bordering on paranoia, filled with dramatics, and some grandiose ideas, video for almost one hundred minutes.
- She played the victim card. Over and over again. Without taking any form of accountability. All she did was protect her rights, and people hated her for it. She was being bullied. Never mind that she started the bullying with the authors who had the audacity to use the same word as her titles.
Amid the noise three very definite and different reactions came to the fore:
- A retired IP lawyer filed a petition to cancel the trademark.
- A group of authors published a collection of short works titled “Cock Tales”.
- Authors who were sent cease and desist letters refused to change their titles.
The end of this saga, one would naturally assume, is that Hopkins will quietly try to salvage her reputation in the writing community, and keep writing her stories to at least stay connected to her readers. But that would make too much sense. Instead she doubled down.
Hopkins filed a lawsuit in federal court against the IP lawyer who petitioned to cancel her trademark, the publisher of Cock Tales, and another author who had similar titles as her work. So something that should have gone away and died a natural death, isn’t because the “victim” is now fanning the flames even more.
Faleena Hopkins really is a cautionary tale of someone who overreached, and when they overreached, they kept justifying their mistake which includes cries of victimization on one hand, while the other hand is digging deep by filing lawsuits. It’s a sure fire way to alienate peers, and readers. Frankly, its not a good look on anyone. Hopkins may continue to sell books, but I doubt she would recover from this as the writing community, especially romance authors, have very, very long memories.