How To Use Brand Names In Books

Remember the Starbucks cup in Game of Thrones? “TBH we’re surprised she didn’t order a Dragon Drink,” Starbucks said in its own response to this very fortunate bit of free advertising. A lot of factors come into play when you refer to brands, personalities, movies, lyrics, quotes, products, and practices. These third-party entities may possess the rights not to be referred or may charge for referring. The four problems that could occur while referring to a brand are infringement, dilution, tarnishment, and defamation.

In his book, The Fault In Our Stars, John Green has made up The Genie Foundation just for the story instead of using the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Similarly, he made up the website Free No Catch instead of using the real Craigslist. Contrarily, he has used references on Mc Donald and America’s Next Top Model (a TV show). The difference lies in the rationale that he doesn’t use Mc Donald’s name to sell burgers or popularize the book to the readers. It’s a reference to give a set of reality. In the case of using The Genie Foundation instead of the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the plot of the story has a strong impact from the foundation, it makes actions and takes decisions that might tarnish its image if conveyed with the real name.

Difference between trademarks and copyrights

Copyrights protect an original artwork or literary work, not the source of the work. Book and movie titles are not protected by copyright, but a trademark can protect a book or movie title if the mark is owned by a publisher, author, or entertainment studio in connection with an ongoing series.

Trademark owners feel irritated when writers use their brand names as generic terms for products or services. The Xerox Corporation doesn’t like writers or the public to speak of “xeroxing” documents, instead of photocopying them. Similarly, Johnson & Johnson doesn’t want their Band-Aid brand to become the generic term for bandages. Even Google complains about the use of the term “googling” instead of using the Google brand search engine for “searching” the Internet. You can avoid even mild reprimands of this sort by respectfully capitalizing brand names.

Fiction certainly would be crippled if authors were unable to use the commonly used names.

Tips to use a brand name

  • If you’re depicting brand name products or companies in an unsavory light in your books. We suggest you invent a fictional brand or a fictional company.
  • It’s not necessary to use the R-in-a-circle symbol ® or the TM symbol ™ every time you refer to a brand name in your text. Writers use it just for a precaution and unless your writing creates a negative impact on the brand. There’s no harm in using the brand name.
  • In some cases, the brand may not agree with using their name. Danny Boyle has to let go off the Mercedes Benz logos from his Slumdog Millionaire movie.
  • Check the brand guidelines in the website of the company. If there’s anything explicitly mentioned not to refer brand names for any use. Then you may have to go for a made-up name or contact the company and seek permission.

Thus, the elements that come under Intellectual Property such as trademark, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets are to be considered while writing a book.


Disclaimer: All information provided in this article is general in nature and for educational purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship between you and me.

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