Does that “Fictitious” Business Name in Your Novel Already Belong to Somebody Else? By Angela Hoy

Well, it happened again. An author submitted a novel and a so-called “fictitious”, non-profit organization he created for his novel was accused, in his novel, of being involved in a child abuse ring. He listed the “fictional” organization’s name and website URL in his novel. I’ve seen this before and it took me a mere second to Google the name and the website address and, guess what? They both exist (though they are not related to each other).

It’s times like these that I can only shake my head in wonder. How in the world can any author presume that a name they pull out of their imagination does not already exist somewhere? And, how can they not think to take the time to Google the name before they build an entire book around that name? Furthermore, actually using a website address in fiction without first checking for its existence just boggles my mind. Can you imagine the ramifications if a perfectly honest, real business was accused of child abuse, even in a novel?

And, it doesn’t stop there.

I was formatting a novel yesterday and the author included numerous fictional email conversations between characters, which included their “fictional” email addresses. I wrote to him and asked if he had registered those email addresses for himself. Of course, he had not. Since he used “fictional” gmail and other common (free) email addresses, and since they weren’t that unusual in nature, chances are those email addresses already belong to real people. Can you imagine the ramifications if a novel featured real email addresses involved in a “fictional” cyber-s*x romance, or worse?

After all the novels that have been written over the centuries, and all the names, businesses, website URLs and email addresses that have been created, no author should ever assume that their idea is original, nor that the names or other identifying information they are using in their book are completely unoriginal.

To protect yourself from needing to completely revamp your book and/or cover someday, and, more importantly, to avoid hefty legal bills, there are three very simple things you can do, which will each only take a few seconds of your time:

1. Search Google for names you plan to use in your novel

2. If you plan to use email addresses in your book, register for those email addresses to ensure they aren’t already being used and so nobody else can acquire them in the future.

3. Search the U.S. trademark website for business names or fictional products you plan to mention in your novel.

Hint: Don’t use quotes when typing the name into the site. Avoiding quotes will result in phrases popping up that are similar, but not identical, to your title. The site is here:
http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/

In the blue box in the center of your screen, click: “Search Marks”

Then click: Basic Word Mark Search (New User)

Type the business or product name or phrase into the Search Term Box.

Even if you find your fictional name under a “dead” trademark, I recommend you avoid using it.

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker.com. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing ezine for writers, which features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, author of The Fine Print, BookLocker.com is: “As close to perfection as you’re going to find in the world of ebook and POD publishing. The ebook royalties are the highest I’ve ever seen, and the print royalties are better than average. BookLocker understands what new authors experience, and have put together a package that is the best in the business. You can’t go wrong here. Plus, they’re selective and won’t publish any manuscript just because it’s accompanied by a check. Also, the web site is well trafficked. If you can find a POD or epublisher with as much integrity and dedication to selling authors’ books, but with lower POD publishing fees, please let me know.”

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