May 10, 2018
Romance author to other romance authors: Don’t you dare say “cocky” (yes, really)
by Susan Rella
There’s so much wretchedness in the world these days, and we hate to add to your ennui, but answer this: if romance writers can’t insert penis euphemisms into their titillating titles, WHAT IS THE POINT OF BEING ALIVE?!?
Because that’s the sort of hellscape self-published romance writer, terrible human being, and Cocker Brothers book series creator Faleena Hopkins wants to create. As Alison Flood importantly chronicles in this week’s Guardian, several authors with the word “cocky” in their eBook titles have come forward stating that Hopkins has written to them “informing them that she had been granted the official registered trademark of the adjective in relation to romance books, and asking them to rename their novels or face legal action.”
That’s right, world. Get ready to lose such penetrating titles as Cocky Bastard, Cocky Roommate, and potentially even The C*cky Alpha of Rooster Hills: Hopkins’s Cocker Series is hell-bent on becoming the only cock you’ll see … at least on Kindle. Flood confirms that the US patent and trademark office show that “cocky” was trademarked in relation to romance e-books last month, and that several authors have since had their books—and reviews and ratings—removed from Amazon.
Hopkins, who has bravely not backed down or apologized for ruining other authors’ lives and livelihoods, even claiming the hashtag #byeFaleena as part of her unverified Twitter profile, insists that her brand is cocky, and says she’s protecting consumers by going after anyone who is diluting that brand. Because heaven forfend a romance reader get the wrong cocky e-book and have to request a refund, or something. Sadly/expectedly, a handful of authors have complied with her demand, changing the names of their books, even in cases when the books in question predate those damn Cocker brothers. Lawsuits are tricky things, and not a lot of self-pubbed authors have the extra money (or legal insight) to risk being taken to court.
But other romance writers aren’t taking this lying down. Bianca Sommerland (currently going by “Bianca ‘Just Cocky’ Sommerland” on Twitter) posted a pretty fantastic video to YouTube, which got #cockygate, the absolute best hashtag ever, to trend on Twitter — and which ultimately led to Hopkins claiming on Facebook that she is the victim of “cyber-bullying.” Her author account has since been taken down, as Mercy Pilkington reports on Good e-Reader.
And it’s not just self-pubbed authors who are riled up about this. The Romance Writers of America has obtained an intellectual property lawyer in response to the trademark, and have already successfully gotten Amazon to reinstate most of the removed titles, as well as agree not to take down any more titles until this issue is resolved. And a petition to have the “cocky” trademark canceled, started by author and retired lawyer Kevin Kneupper, has over 21,000 signatures at the time of this writing.
This is all strangely hilarious and laughably annoying, but it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it is goddamn absurd for an author to claim trademark on a word commonly used since the mid-eighteenth century, which evolved from a different-but-related meaning of the same word in the mid-sixteenth century (Google has a pretty cool chart, showing a strange shrinkage in cocky usage during the late 1960s). And to claim retroactive trademark, on a word that brings up more than 1,000 results on Amazon’s book search? No. Just no. Stop.
There’s a term for this type of human, a term that has yet to be patented: trademark troll. I don’t know, maybe we should rename trademark trolls Faleena Hopkinses? Maybe we can protect consumers from those trying to silence other authors? Because honestly, if Rick Santorum can get a neologism for being an asshole, why can’t Faleena Hopkins get one for being a dick?
Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.