1. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    Mentioning Brand Names in Novels

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by guamyankee, Feb 21, 2011.

    Are there any legal issues with using brand names in fiction? I use a reference to Warcraft in my novel. It's just a few sentences about someone that plays it. The sentence looks like this:

    “There were several theories and leads, as you can imagine, about who it was that was out here doing the killing. One of the leads, which now looks to have been accurate, came from a computer game, of all places. Ever heard of Warcraft?”
     
  2. Deleth
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    Deleth Member

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    I Don't think mentioning Brand Names in stories does any harm as its usually free advertising for the party mentioned. One of the stories I am writing mentions places like Subway and Kmart and so on because it takes place close to modern times, as long as you are using the brand name in context, there should be no problem with it.

    Alternatively you can email Blizzard to ask them if you can use their brand in your story and see what they say.
     
  3. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I suspect it depends more on what you say about them. Mentioning the name is simply free advertising and they probably won't care. Saying that the product sucks might land you in some hot water, and making any blatantly false claims about them could be worse still. Remember you can't really be sued if its true and you can prove it. (Well actually you probably can but in all likelihood you'll win and they'd be foolish to try. On the other hand don't mention scientology - they have a reputation for suing.)

    Cheers.
     
  4. Deleth
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    Deleth Member

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    Also, this. ;)
     
  5. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    You may want to ask a professional about this subject. Personally, I'm not sure on the matter, and if how much involvement in your story it may or may not have matters at all. I know it is illegal for the cover art of a book to show a company's symbol or logo unless permission is granted (ie: the cover art shows a toyota car racing toward/away from disaster--illegal unless permission given), but as far as the written word, I'm not really sure.

    I can't see having your characters eat Cherios for breakfast having a legal issue, but if those Cherios were somehow mutated by something in the story and started killing people, could you have legal issues to tend with then? Or if one of your characters didn't like Cherios and began insulting the cereal (...yea I know...), could you be sued over one of your character's opinions?

    But also, some brand names work as descriptive devices, too (ie: the toyota car, the blue Wal-mart sign, the flatbed Ford, etc.) So should you need to seek permission for using them just to describe what something looks like? I have no clue and really haven't given it much thought, but I would recommend seeking the advice of a professional on the matter--if nothing else, just to be safe.
     
  6. Chudz
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    Chudz Contributing Member

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    I agree with psychotick. As long as you aren't defaming a brand name, I don't think there is an issue.
     
  7. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    After giving it some more thought, I'm not too worried about it.
    Assuming I'm lucky enough to pick up an agent, I'm sure that'll all get worked out then.
    If I don't, then it doesn't matter anyway.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's done all the time and not in any way illegal...

    the only problem is if you write something negative about the brand/company and thus risk being sued...
     
  9. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    The only brand name I can think of that I used in my story is the Dollar General, and I don't think it's an issue with having it on your story, as long as you aren't doing it for the sole purpose of selling the items the store sells, or using the brand name logo on the cover of your book or some sort.
     
  10. blackbird04217
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    blackbird04217 New Member

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    Isn't this where the freedom of speech comes in? At least if you're just mentioning a name, product, character, etc. I can't see how there would be any possible harm in that. If you take a character, say Mickey Mouse, and use him as your main character, that might be an entirely different matter.

    That said, I know next to nothing with concerns to legal actions.
     
  11. joelpatterson
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    joelpatterson Member

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    You should be thinking in product placement terms-- set up a bidding war between World of Warcraft and Mario Brothers.

    "The Mario Brothers Murders," that even has kind of a ring to it...
     
  12. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    The warcraft reference is integral to the plot, but not that integral. If I need to change it down the road, so be it. I could say more but I don't want to reveal the plot.

    A good agent will know the legalities, so it should get weeded out then, if it's a problem, and if the novel makes it that far.
     
  13. TheMaster734
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    TheMaster734 Member

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    I seriously doubt that Blizzard would have any problem with that. If you were writing a novel and calling it warcraft, then they'd be a little worried. But if it's something like this, then its practically free advertising for them.

    If you want, you could invent your own brand name....
     
  14. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    If you say something negative re the brand, make sure it is an opinion of your character, and NOT presented as a fact...

    So, say "John didn't like the Starbucks SuperEspresso" but do NOT write "Starbucks sucks" (despite the alliteration).
     
  15. joelpatterson
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    joelpatterson Member

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    And THEN have a freak accident, a random bag of cement falling ten stories and putting John in the hospital for six months... that'll teach him.
     
  16. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    US Law

    Warning, this applies to US law. I have no clue what the law says about using brand names in Europe, Australia, or anywhere else.

    If you are writing a fiction novel and it's the characters talking, you can drop brand names as you please. In the arena of parody this goes further, as such use falls under the "fair use" clause of US copyright and trademark law. If a work is clearly a parody (not to be taken seriously), it does not matter what you say. This is how Saturday Night Live and other comedy shows get away with dropping namebrands left and right. They are satire/comedy, so they are protected. For example, South Park routinely makes fun of Wal-mart and celebrities. It doesn't really matter. There is nothing said subjects of ridicule can do as South Park is an animated comedy show and therefore is protected under free speech.

    When it comes to more serious fiction (drama, romance, fantasy...) the only problem comes if you ever make a visual media form of your work (movies, animation, etc.) at which point issues of trademark pop up. No ones owns the name Starbucks or McDonald's, contrary to what you hear. They own the trademark (those golden arches, that silly green sign...), which includes artwork and CAN include the specific font/style of the words displayed but not the words themselves.

    The fear of lawsuit in the US is strictly a matter of tort law. Under criminal law you cannot sue anyone at anytime. Preliminary criteria must be met first (examination of evidence, etc.) before the court will even hear a case. That does not apply to civil lawsuits. Under US tort (business) law, anyone can sue anyone at anytime for any reason. And if you win your defense, the opposing side DOES NOT have to pay for your legal fees (as many other nations require). Thus even if there is no case whatsoever, larger companies WILL and DO file unwinnable suits for the purpose of making smaller companies give in or settle out of court. Until the case is settled, any books containing the disputed use may have to be pulled/refunded, which no bookstore or publisher wants to deal with. And a single author struggling to make ends meet can not afford the army of lawyers a massive corporation keeps on beck and call. That said, most such cases would be thrown out of court if they made it that far. The companies want the other side to settle. Such cases actually have a better chance of actually winning in court in Europe, where (as my understanding is) the criteria to be ruled in breach of copyright is less strict. Perhaps they do not have the same "fair use" criteria.

    Long story short, if you really must then include the brandnames but realize that future editors/publishers/directors and so on may simply want to change the names later down the road anyway.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    all novels are 'fiction' by definition...

    not really true... first of all, in criminal cases, no one gets 'sued'... if a crime is determined to have taken place, criminal charges are brought against the perp and a trial will or will not take place, depending on the decision of the district attorney's office...

    and in re civil lawsuits, while anyone can file a lawsuit against anyone else at any time, it is still up to the discretion of the court to hear the case, or toss it out as 'frivolous'...

    for the official skinny on all of this, go to: www.copyright.gov
     
  18. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    I think John Sanford's character drank a certain pop in one book.(Pepsi?)

    I think good product placement can help a story, as long as the person doesn't seem to be doing a comercial.

    "Hi I am Detective Jones, I only drink X cola, it has great_____."

    "He takes a drink of his Dr Pepper and looks at the tv...."
    It tells about what the character likes, rather then using some generic word,
    like pop or soda, sips his drink, slams some liquid in a glass...etc.

    I wouldn't bend go overboard though. Some placement is normal, but to much will ruin it.
    "He looks at his rolex, it was almost time to meet at Pizza hut with the client who drives a Volkswagon."

    Basically, keep it real. How many names of products do you notice when you go about in a day?
     

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