Sunday, July 27, 2008

What about brand names and real places?

Recently, writers have asked questions about read places and brand names, and I decided to share the information with you rather than keep them hidden in comments on the blog.

I am in the process of writing and publishing my first children’s novel. I have been dabbling with a second book as a sequel, but my focus is finishing the first. I have been worried about using actual restaurant and business names. I didn’t want to break any trademark or copyright laws. Would you happen to know what laws this situation would fall under and where I might find documentation dealing with my legal rights to use these names and locations for setting purposes only?

Most authors use actual places in their writing and most publishers will allow this with one major rule. What you say is positive and not negative about the place. The main problem is putting the real restaurant or business in a bad light could open the door for a law suit so publishers are very careful - but anything in a positive vein or just a mention is not a problem at all and provides them with free publicity which they love. I've even noticed some coffee shops have displays of books in their showcases, and I'm guessing the shop is mentioned in the book.

I often send a book to the places that I mention. I don't have a specific law number - but some of my writer friends are lawyers, and they and my publisher's lawyers assure me that this isn't a problem. After forty novels, I've never heard anything negative from people living in real places I've written about, and some have contacted me to say thanks. Well, now that I think of it, I did have one woman angry because in a book set in Michigan, I called soft drinks soda instead of pop. She said I should do research better. I live in Michigan and I call it pop. For some reason, I used the word soda. (So kill me )

Just make sure that if you use a brand name, you capitalize it. If you say Kleenex instead of tissue or drank a Coke instead of Coca -cola, make sure you capitalizing the name. It's easy to forget that some words we use, like Kleenex, is a brand and not what tissues are called. Words like Frisbee and Band-Aid.

I would like to use a restaurant in a major league ballpark as a location in my novel -- actually a private suite in the ballpark. The description is very positive but exaggerated -- I made the suite more lush and the food and service Four Star. Do you think this is okay?

If you are saying only positive things about a real location, you can't run into trouble unless the place has a trademark symbol beside the name and then you will want to use the symbol as well. A ballpark wouldn't have one -- but Kleenex does. If you want to be totally realistic, then you need to stick to realism. Anyone who's been in a box like that will know you're not accurate -- but you could indicate that this is a special box in the park -- a VIP box for example -- and then that will cover it for the average reader. You shouldn't run into a trouble with that. I often create fictitious towns near real ones, and people know it's not real so they accept it -- but the people who live in the real town are thrilled when the characters go there for various reasons. I also use this to my advantage but letting the town bookstores know that the book has scenes from their town.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. This was very useful and to the point. I assume the same rules are true for short stories?