I have been watching what is going on with #CockyGate, stunned by the train wreck that is gripping the publishing industry by storm. What started as one woman’s horrible mistake (and lack of understanding of trademark law) has blown up into a full-scale witch hunt. And you know what… I’ve had enough!
Pitchforks have been seized by the masses, and the mob is on the loose. No one is safe from this shit storm (and yes, I deliberately swore). I can tell you now, watching the social media feeds, there WILL be more than one author who will have their reputation harmed, if not destroyed, by this mess. Where will it end?
Recently, on the Editor’s Blog on Black Wolf Editorial Services, I wrote about some of the social media lessons to be learnt from this whole #CockyGate mess. However, now I need to speak out about the behavior of certain writers that I have found deplorable, and it makes me sick!
A Short Summary of #CockyGate
For those who don’t know, #CockyGate is the result of one romance writer’s trademark (TM) of the word cocky. I kid you not. Exactly how she managed to get a TM on such a common word is completely beyond me, but she did. However, it wasn’t the TM itself that started this whole thing. It was actually a tweet which showed a screen capture of a cease-and-desist email that the TM owner sent to another author, demanding that she change the title of her books.
And off it went! Mob psychology took over and everyone was turning the TM owner into the Big Bad Wolf.
Days later, a retired lawyer, come writer filed paperwork to request that the TM be overturned. Hail, the conquering hero. At least, that’s how he was viewed by the writing community at large, but I will get to his actions in a moment.
I will gladly admit that I’m among those who wants to see the Cocky TM reverse (revoked, or whatever the term is). Cocky is such a common word; this whole thing is insane.
The TM owner tried to defend herself, which, in my opinion, she shouldn’t have done, because she only made the situation worse. However, things didn’t stop there.
A group put out an anthology, with 100% of the proceeds being donated to various advocacy funds for writers. (On a side note: I support this particular anthology, gladly. I even bought a copy myself, and spread the word on my personal feeds.)
Then Amazon was brought into the mess, forced to act by a TM in place. Romance Writers of America and Authors Guild have stepped in to assist affected writers. And the owner of the TM at the heart of this mess decided to file a lawsuit against a fellow writer, a publicist, and the retired lawyer that filed that paperwork against the TM.
From a legal perspective, everything is now a waiting game. Amazon is no longer randomly taking books down, and we’re all waiting for the next stage of the lawsuit to be heard. The TM will take until next year to be contested. Meanwhile, the fallout of this mess is only just beginning.
A rush on trademarks, and the bullies are out in force.
The number of TM applications for random words has seen a dramatic increase. It’s not surprising that writers are now scared. However, it has gotten out of control. Writers who had never thought of trademarking their series titles are now rushing to get the paperwork through, simply because of what is happening with #CockyGate. But now the lynch mob is on the hunt of the next person to tie to the stake.
Some of those TM applications are perfectly legit, yet the ones who made the applications are being lynched. I ask you: what is wrong with someone asking for a TM on STORMZY, or THE QUESTRISON SAGA, or WHONIVERSE? Those are clearly made-up words. (What’s interesting is that if it hadn’t been for #CockyGate, the writers involved likely wouldn’t have bothered.)
I will grant you that the TM for the phrase DRAGON SLAYER needs to disappear. Dragon slayer is such a common trope within fantasy novels. A TM on this phrase would ruin so many writers before they even get their books published. However, the messages that I’ve seen on both Facebook and Twitter regarding this particular TM actually disgust me. It’s not about trying to understand why the writer feels such a TM is necessary, but rather outrageous bullying remarks, being rude and derogatory. (And before anyone asks, I WILL NOT share links to such comments, because I found them to be so unacceptable, I don’t want those comments anywhere near my feeds.)
I know of a few who were seriously considering applying for a TM of their own. My advice to them: wait, or you run the risk of being attacked too. Wait until we know exactly where the legal precedent sits with #CockyGate, then make a decision based on informed facts. Don’t join the masses running scared, filing TM applications without thinking.
An automated system and a retired lawyer are fueling the raging fires.
Shortly after the #CockyGate saga blew up, an automated account known as @CockyBot showed up on Twitter. This account reports any and all TMs that have been applied for with the US Patent and Tradmark Office that might be related to the writing/publishing industry. While this might seem like a handy resource, it’s this account that is actually fueling some of the heated emotions about various TMs.
And the person behind @CockyBot? One retired lawyer, come writer, who filed the original paperwork against the Cocky TM.
Now, before you go rushing off to continue singing the praises of said retired lawyer, come writer, let me fill you in on a few facts. Let me explain why I haven’t once said what his name is (not that it’s that hard to figure out with a little Google search).
Not only is the said retired lawyer, come writer the brains behind @CockyBot, but he is also advocating for writers everywhere to rush out and contest TMs, with little thought as to the legal ramifications — at least, that’s how it appears to me. While his feed is filled with explanations of legal jargon, trying to explain to the masses the finer points of TM laws (which is an action I admire), you will also find tweet after tweet of cynical remarks about one or another of the TM applications that @CockyBot has uncovered, encouraging the masses to go after the TM.
His follower numbers on Twitter have skyrocketed. That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but when you discover that he self-published a new book in the middle of all of this (a collection of short stories), motives start to look suspicious. Then you see ads crop up about the first book in his science fiction series (published four years ago), followed closely behind by ads for the other books in the same series. This is where the retired lawyer’s actions actually turn me off.
I’m a fan of science fiction, and I was willing to give this guy’s writing a go. Let’s face it, if it hadn’t been for #CockyGate, there is a high probability that I wouldn’t have ever known that the guy existed. However, using something so heated and so negative to promote your books, continually adding fuel to keep that popularity fire burning hot, is…
I have so many words flying around in my head right now, trying to express my thoughts about this form of marketing, and none of them seem right. The whole situation just makes me mad.
Before anyone decides to attack me for my opinions, let me remind you of a little known statistic of human behavior. For every one person that speaks out about something, there will be at least another ten who feel the same way, but have chosen to remain silent.
I’m not the only one who feels this way.
The bullying is out of control. It has to stop!
While #CockyGate has been a disgusting mess, with some writers gaining popularity and others having their careers ruined, the real victim in all of this is the writing and publishing industry. I have encountered so many new writers, talented and just starting out, who have been watching this saga unfold and are really wondering if they want to pursue a career in this industry.
The cattiness has moved to an entirely new level. Those who are speaking out against the bullying are also being attacked, accused of not understanding the situation. Meanwhile, the bullying instigators are being hail with praise.
No, this is not an exaggeration. Shortly after this whole mess started, I, myself, had tweeted out something to the effect of feeling sorry for the owner of the Cocky TM. I could see that this was a mistake made from not understanding the law, but I could also see the woman being attacked publicly for it. Granted, my opinion of her lowered after her drunken rampage on Facebook, but I still feel sorry for her. Yet, I too was attacked, because I supposedly didn’t understand exactly how this one TM has impacted on the entire industry.
People, I’m not stupid. But unlike those who wish to just attack out of rage, I actually think through my actions on social media and the internet. I fully understand the power of words, and how words need to be precise to invoke the right reactions. Not only am I a writer, but I’m a freelance editor. I also have spent the last three years learning about social media and internet security. I’ve made it my personal mission to help others protect themselves and their reputations on the internet.
I’m learning all the time about copyright laws. I’m developing a FULL understanding of what it takes to publish a book — both through traditional routes and self-publishing. And I am fully aware of how one ill-timed comment on social media could bring everything you have worked for crashing down around you.
But when an online community that is meant to be supportive starts turning on its own, scaring the new ones and making them question their choices… I don’t care what side of the argument you are on with any of these TMs.
Both sides are being bullies, and it has to stop!
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2018