So, as it often does, a storm has blown up on social media these last few days. If you’re active in the writing community on Facebook or Twitter, you can’t have failed to hear about Faleena Hopkins and #cockygate – hell, even the Guardian here in the UK has picked up the story today, running a decisively biting assessment of her attempt to prevent other authors using a titular word that she’s laid trademark to (even if they have crushingly failed to spell her name correctly throughout!).
If you have somehow managed to miss the furore, Courtney Milan has written a thread with a succinct summary of precisely how this all went down.
The long and short of it is that an erotica author by the name of Faleena Hopkins managed to file a trademark for the stylised word ‘cocky’ as a series title, and by a succession of strong arm tactics and downright bullying behaviour, has tried to stop other authors using that word in their own titles – even those whose stories were published prior to her series, which incidentally, seems to have been referred to by Hopkins as ‘The Cocker Brothers’ series until she filed for the trademark. Even if the trademark can stand up to the separate legal challenges being prepared by author Kevin Knuepper and the RWA, to attempt to retroactively prevent authors like Jamila Jasper from using the word in their title with threats like the one below are, quite frankly, abhorrent.
And it isn’t only about the titles, even though Hopkins is surely on shaky legal ground with those alone. As of today (8th May), authors are reporting that even the use of ‘cocky’ as a keyword is resulting in their book being removed from sale.
This is people’s livelihoods at risk, and quite rightly, the romance community has rallied around each other to support authors who have been targeted by Hopkins, who, at the time of writing, has refused to apologise or withdraw her threats, claiming instead to be the victim of a sustained bullying campaign. However utterly delicious it is that the community has come together over a controversy by the name of #cockygate, the mere fact that at this moment in time it seems to be possible to trademark a word means that authors and publishers across every genre need to sit up and pay attention.
Imagine how many sci-fi books have ‘stars’ in the title? Fantasy books with ‘tower’, ‘mage’ or ‘witch’? Horror books with ‘dark’ or ‘shadows’? There’s a reason why those titular words are so prevalent, and that’s because they work. They clue the reader in as to the genre of the book, tell them what they can expect and stand up in the search listings as a flag for the story’s content. They work for both the author and the reader, and in my opinion, they can never be allowed to become the sole property of one overreaching, narcissistic author alone.
Right now, this is a one-off that will hopefully see justice done when all the dust settles. What’s most concerning, though, is the thought that right now, hundreds of entrepreneurial chancers are racing off to the USPTO to try to file copyright claims just like Hopkins before them. This sense of self-interest goes against everything I love about the supportive writing community. There’s limitless room for beautiful, well-written literature across all the genres. We need to support each other and build each other up, amplifying everyone’s success to promote the world of publishing as a whole. Divisive tactics like this harm authors, publishers, and the readers who invest their time and money in the stories we write.
I suspect that in a year or so, Hopkins’ name will be no more than a footnote in the annals of publishing history, one of those memes that everyone rolls their eyes at when they look back at the ashes of what was once a successful indie publishing career. We can only hope that she hasn’t unleashed Pandora’s Box on her way down.