Editor says that "all copyrighted/trademarked items must be removed."

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Wesley_S_Lewis

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An editor for The Wild Rose Press requested my full manuscript but included the condition that "all copyrighted/trademarked items must be removed." She goes on to say, "Unfortunately, I think this is going to impact the hotel names as well," which is a problem for me because a pivotal scene takes place in an iconic hotel that can't simply be renamed (doing so would be the equivalent of writing a 9/11 story but changing the name of the World Trade Center to the International Commerce Complex--it would be too obvious and too distracting for the reader).

Am I wrong in thinking that this is an unusual request? I understand that there might be cause for concern if a story disparages a trademarked brand, but, to the best of my understanding, there is nothing in trademark or copyright law that creates civil liability for an author/publisher that names the make and model of car a person drives or the brand of soda or liquor a person drinks or the hotel a person stays in.

Is this just a standard some publishers choose to enforce, or is it as out-of-left-field as it seems to me?
 

cornflake

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I think it's a bit odd, but I'd guess (I am only guessing), they don't have an in-house lawyer and would rather just go that way for everyone than have to deal with people who skirt the line, or who use a trademarked name in a way they shouldn't (naming their own character a tm), or who want to argue that it's not violating copyright if it's just a couple of lines of song lyrics or yada yada sis boom bah. It's just easier.

That said, I don't think it's particularly distracting to fake-name something that's really obviously a stand-in for something. People get it and just move on. If you have characters using 'eyetime' to chat over video with their phones, or a social media network called VisageTome, people will either just translate to ft or fb in their heads or figure out what you mean and go with the flow.

If you call it the Cobb-Flushing hotel, people will get it.
 

amergina

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That's weird. I've worked with both small and large presses, and have used plenty of trademarked names (and real places) in my books.
 

veinglory

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I've only every had one press out of over a dozen request this and they are no longer in business. It is not unusual for fiction to mention brands, so long as it is not in a way that is false and/or disparaging.

It might be worth checking whether this really is house style, or just something this editor has latched onto.
 
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Wesley_S_Lewis

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Thanks for the responses, cornflake, amergina, and veinglory. I have a follow-up question:

Is it weird for a publisher to make this type of request before looking at the full manuscript? Isn't this the type of change that would normally be worked out in the editing process?

SIDE NOTE: The more I look through my manuscript for trademarked names, the more it dawns on me how this request undermines the authenticity of my story. I did a lot of research into what type of gun or airplane would be needed for a required task, but those are trademarked names, which means I would need to discard the fruits of that research, in favor of fictional makes/models.
 
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cornflake

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Before editing? I have to agree I have never heard of that.

Yeah, that's not standard. If, say, your story revolves around a common household name beverage being tied to, say, plague, then an editor might.

Or if you're using trademarked characters from Really Wealthy Franchises With Millions and Hundreds Of Bored Attorneys, sure. But not things that have a historic context and that are tied to the content.

That's not standard.
 

cmhbob

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This seems really out of line for them. While I don't have direct experience with them, I have several friends who are published through them, or have worked for them. They've appeared at (and sponsored) the OWFI convention. I almost want to suggest you ask the editor for clarification, and maybe speak directly to someone above your editor. That latter is probably too far though. Just really confused here as it doesn't seem like them.

Edit: Rhonda and Ally were the ones who appeared at OWFI. The current OWFI president is published through them as well.
 
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Wesley_S_Lewis

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I created a number of fictional companies for this story (e.g., a robbery takes place in a fictional casino), so I'm not opposed to creating fake brands, but there is a difference between using a few fake brands and using only fake brands.

For example, Quentin Tarantino made good use of the fictional Big Kahuna Burger in Pulp Fiction, but Jules's and Vincent's "You know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?" discussion wouldn't have been nearly as effective if Vincent had asked, "You know what they call a Big Kahuna Burger in Paris?"
 
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Wesley_S_Lewis

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I sent the following question to the editor:

Would the requirement to remove all trademarked items also apply to the makes and models of cars characters drive, the brands of soda or liquor they drink, and the types of airplanes they fly in? Also, what about the makes/models of guns (e.g., “chrome-plated Beretta” or “Glock 19”) or characters saying they’re making a supply run to Walmart?

She confirmed that using trademarked makes, models, or brands in the aforementioned examples would not be allowed. She copied and pasted this explanation from some sort of internal FAQ (I say "internal" because I can't find it on their website):

<<Why we don’t use trademarks or copyrights in our stories:

Any use of trademarks or copyrighted names or references can result in liable action against you by the companies or persons you have referenced. None of the liability rests with The Wild Rose Press, Inc. Any fines or monies involved will rest solely on you, the author.

In the past, something of a similar nature occurred with one of our authors, but thankfully, the company in question agreed to a settlement with no legal action. We stood by her and aided in any way we could, but in the end the liability rested with her as we do not write the words, we only have rights to publish the work.>>

My response:

Thanks for the prompt response, XXXXXX.

Unfortunately, this requirement and its explanation are a little too far outside traditional publishing norms for me to feel comfortable proceeding with TWRP. I do, however, appreciate the time and consideration afforded my manuscript.
 
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Fuchsia Groan

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Wow, that is weird. I have a big set piece in my book set in Home Depot, where the MC follows a suspected serial killer around. It's suggested that he might buy his murder tools there (he has a frequent-buyer card). I was not once asked to rename the store, though I easily could have done so.

There were plenty of brand names, too, such as guns and fast food. The only issue I had was in copyedits; because certain companies put trademarked names in all caps on their website, the copyeditor wanted to do that in the book. But that was a style issue, not a legal issue.
 

semantica

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How odd. I wonder if they would publish it as is if the author accepts the risk.
 

Wesley_S_Lewis

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How odd. I wonder if they would publish it as is if the author accepts the risk.

The removal of all trademarked names was presented to me as nonnegotiable.

I got the impression that they're a small press that overreacted after one of their authors was threatened with a lawsuit. I certainly understand being wary of unnecessary legal exposure, but the reality is that anybody can be sued at any time, for anything.

If they'd looked at my manuscript and said, "Our attorney thinks this particular reference to a trademarked brand may be problematic," I would have tried to work with them to correct the problem; however, I'm not comfortable working with a publisher that asks authors to sacrifice verisimilitude as a safeguard against frivolous lawsuits.

EDITED TO ADD: Another concern for me is that there was no mention of the possibility of getting a company to sign off on the use of a trademarked name--something I regularly saw happen with trademarked logos when I worked in film production. To start from a position of 'no brand names, no exceptions' seems to suggest an unwillingness to deal with the nuts-and-bolts considerations involved in publishing a book.
 
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blacbird

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The simple mention of trademarked products/place names is so common I have trouble imagining what their thought process is. Send them a novel from, say, Stephen King, with such names highlighted. I would have trouble working with a publisher who demanded such an irrational condition for publication.

caw
 

Maryn

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I wouldn't have trouble working with a press that pre-empted all use of trademarked names. I would refuse. Their reasons for it don't make sense, since we see it everywhere, in every genre, and the fact that one of their authors got into trouble with such a usage suggests their editors did not catch a negative mention to which any company might react.

You were classy in your response, Wesley.

Maryn, who only aspires to being classy
 

cmhbob

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I'll almost certainly see one of their reps later this year at a conference. I might present the question to them, redacted of identifying info.
 

tharris

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I know this thread is a couple of months old, and because this touches on a question I also had:

Check out The Corrections. He blanks out all brand names and institutions with dashes. And he uses a lot in that book.

He’ll do it like (not a real line from the book. I’m too lazy to go and find it):

“John had just gotten his tenure at D—— College.”

I always thought that was an interesting way to use real institutions without having to make up fake names.
 

Roxxsmom

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But why would an author have to blank out the name of a college or make up a fake name?

I've certainly read plenty of novels, including some recently written ones, where people drank cokes or used Kleenex or drove Fords or ate at McDonalds, or shopped at Macy's or Amazon, and attended real-world colleges. I've even read books with scenes taking place on real college campuses. I've always understood that the use of trademarked brand names in novels was acceptable as long as it wasn't defamatory. Why would a trademark holder object to a little bit of free product placement? They pay to have their products included in movies.

I'm no expert, but this stipulation seems really weird. I could see it being a problem if the coke drinking and McDonalds (or whatever) eating is in a story where it's portrayed as "bad," but even so, there was a documentary named Supersize Me that focused on how unhealthy McDonald's food was. If they weren't sued, then it's hard to see how a novelist would be for a passing mention of a given brand, even if they got a bellyache from eating it.

Note, I can see setting a story at a fictitious campus, or in a fictitious town, county, or country (that may or may not be based on a real one). There are benefits to creating a setting that is what you need it to be for a story, and it could be hard to set a story at a real school or small town if you need to have characters or events that are at odds with reality. But that's not because writing a story that references a real-life setting or school is off limits.
 
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Chase

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I wouldn't have trouble working with a press that pre-empted all use of trademarked names. I would refuse.

Me, too. This is only one (but perhaps the worst) demand some small presses make to make me scratch 'em off my list of possible publishers.
 

quianaa2001

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I use to rack my brain over this but then I remember 'Ready Player One'...
 

Polenth

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I've certainly read plenty of novels, including some recently written ones, where people drank cokes or used Kleenex or drove Fords or ate at McDonalds, or shopped at Macy's or Amazon, and attended real-world colleges. I've even read books with scenes taking place on real college campuses. I've always understood that the use of trademarked brand names in novels was acceptable as long as it wasn't defamatory. Why would a trademark holder object to a little bit of free product placement? They pay to have their products included in movies.

I have seen examples where companies objected to trademarks being improperly rendered. An example of this is Tannoy, who make sure their product name has a capital letter. This problem is easily solved by searching for any brands used and making sure the name is written correctly. But some people skip that step.
 

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