1. SandWrrm
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    SandWrrm New Member

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    Will Starbucks sue me if I use them in my story?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by SandWrrm, Nov 3, 2011.

    Hey guys,

    I'm currently in the process of writing a story for National Novel Writing Month, and I've just had a great idea for a plot.

    I want to write about an average guy living in a supposedly perfect futuristic world, who accidentally stumbles upon a group of secret agents who maintain cover as Starbucks employees, while their secret headquarters is actually underground beneath the building. There are more exciting elements to the story, but I just wanted to give that brief summary so I could ask this question:

    Is it as taboo as it feels to use a real-life corporation, company, or brand in fiction? I mean, as long as I'm not dissing them or libeling them, I don't think Starbucks will have my head mounted above the fireplace. I could use a fictional equivalent, but I like the feel that you get using something familiar and realistic in an otherwise far-fetched story. I don't know.

    What do you think?

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  2. SnappyUK
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    SnappyUK New Member

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    Not sure about the legal ramifications, other than they're bound to be complicated, but you may find that the use of a recognizable corporate identity in such a major role would distract readers from the meat of the story. Have you considered creating a fictional chain with a name similar enough to trigger recognition in the reader's mind, while being different enough to avoid a clash with the lawyers?
    What about "Starbeans" coffee, for example?
  3. Arathald
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    Arathald New Member

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    I frequently see authors mentioning brands in passing, but I don't think using one as central to your plot is really the best idea...
  4. Lightman
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    Lightman Member

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    No.

    As long as you do not libel Starbucks (which would only come up if you claim what you're describing is real), you're fine.
  5. LX_Theo
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    LX_Theo New Member

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    They probably could, but wouldn't because its free advertising. Big budget stuff like TV shows that aren't paid to advertise it usually use similar names. For example, you could call it Coffeebucks if you want to be safe.
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    Whether they would sue you and whether they would win are two different questions. I do not know if Starbucks is litigious, but if theye were upset by it and sued it could cost you tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of thousands, to go to trial against them even if you prevail.

    As for changing the name, if they had any kind of successful claim against you part of it would probably hinge on the fact that the reader would identify the Starbucks in the book with the real chain and that they would somehow be harmed by that. So changing the name to Starbeans or Coffeebucks doesn't really help you much, because any reader is going to know immediately who you are referring to. Assuming there is a valid claim by Starbucks to begin with, with may not be the case.

    Why don't you just invent a coffee chain of your own that doesn't have any association with Starbucks and go with that? From what you've said it doesn't sound important to the story that it is Starbucks.
  7. Lightman
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    Lightman Member

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    I say again - there are no grounds for a lawsuit, and it's incredibly unlikely that Starbucks would try and create grounds.

    Max Barry wrote a novel where Nike Execs plotted a mass murder in order to promote a new shoe. He faced no legal difficulties.
  8. Trilby
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    Trilby Senior Member Contributor

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    It depends on the content of your story. If you say anything that could be detrimental to the brand then you could be in trouble. I'd use a fictional chain, to be on the safe side.
  9. Lightman
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    Lightman Member

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    No, this isn't true. If he says anything that (a) could be detrimental to the brand, (b) is untrue, and (c) is presented as fact, then he could be in trouble. Otherwise, not really.
  10. walshy12238
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    walshy12238 New Member

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    Just rename them to something similar, like SnappyUK said. Readers will still recognise them as Starbucks as long as it's similar, and there'll be no chance of you getting in trouble, since it's not actually Starbucks you're talking about.

    Although, even if you used Starkbucks, I doubt they'd do anything. The employees are the focus aren't they, not the company?
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis magnetismus Contributor

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    This is not true.

    As Lightman says, there is little chance of running into legal trouble here. But if you did, hypothetically, give rise to a legal claim, one thing Starbucks would likely have to show is that the coffee shop in your book is identified, by readers, with their real world chain. So changing it in a way that makes certain every reader will still know it is Starbucks isn't really helping.
  12. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Supporter Contributor

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    Not true. Certainly under English law, this could still be defamation- as the average person would know that you meant Starbucks. (Lewis v Daily Telegraph [1967]! Boom!).
  13. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Member

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    I propose:
    Meteordollars
    Asterisksawhorse
    Vedetteclam

    That way, if you do get sued, at least you know it's by someone who owns a dictionary of synonyms*.


    *:Which means they can't be inherently bad.
  14. Trilby
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    Trilby Senior Member Contributor

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    I did not mean to rename it as something similar. I meant to invent a complete fictional place for a fictional story that could not be confused with an established business.
  15. Arathald
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    Arathald New Member

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    <snark> Like a thesaurus? That you clearly only used for the *first* half of your post? :p </snark>

    (okay, time for bed before my snarkiness gets me into trouble...)
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    lightman is right on all counts... pay attention to what he said!

    and steerpike is an attorney, so his backup of lightman is proof enough...
  17. Prophetsnake
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    Prophetsnake New Member

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    So, if i were to say, for example, that the Red Carpet Inn is so named because of the blood stains of murederd crack dealers on the carpet I would be OK? Or would I be safer changing to say, the "Red Carpet Motel"?
  18. HorusEye
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    HorusEye New Member Contributor

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    If you're planning on selling it to a publisher, I'd say knock yourself out. Don't restrain yourself with doubts about this and that technicality. Your job is to be the artist. Editors are paid to edit.
  19. Lightman
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    Lightman Member

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    So long as it was presented in a fictional context.
  20. Prophetsnake
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    Prophetsnake New Member

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    Cool, I was a bit worried about that. Thank you both!
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Supporter Contributor

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    there are several real inns and motels by that name, so i'd advise picking a fictional name that can't be mistaken for an existing business, the owners of which may not take kindly to their lodgings being so described... :eek:
  22. Alycan
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    Alycan New Member

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    Buckshot's
    - One Stop Caffeine Shot -​

    Think that's a nice one instead of starbucks, but by now you should've solved the problem tho.
  23. KinkyCousin
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    KinkyCousin New Member

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    Personally I like it when real brand names are used as it makes the story feel more real, I personally feel unless it's meant for comical purposes then renaming it something similar doesn't sit right with me. Obviously using brand names to the point where it looks like product placement is annoying but if my character is in Starbucks in my head I like it to call it Starbucks. I guess as long as I am not saying anything bad about the company or making up false facts about it then it's ok? If I really couldn't keep the brand name in then I'd just refer to it as "a coffee shop".

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