The word cocky has had romance authors and readers alike in an uproar for the last few weeks in a scandal that has been dubbed “cockygate.”
Faleena Hopkins, an indie romance author, decided to trademark the term cocky. If you’re not familiar with trademark law, you can’t trademark words, but you can trademark the way they look, and when the word can be used. In this case, it appears that Hopkins has done both for the word “cocky” in the font she used for her Cocky Brothers romance series, as well as the word cocky in romance novel e-book titles, and the name of her series, Cocker Brothers, in use on romance novel e-book titles.
In the romance novel industry, trademarking cocky is a little like trademarking the word billionaire, or the word omega, or the word boss. These words are romance industry standards and they’re shorthand for readers to know exactly what they’re picking up when they buy a book with those words in the title.
Romance authors and romance readers tend to speak the same coded language, with many authors taking great care to go out of their way to talk to readers about what they should expect from a book. That’s why a lot of romance books on Amazon have a disclaimer at the end of the blurb, telling them whether the book is going to be a HEA or a HFN. That’s there so readers can make informed decisions about books they want to read and so that authors can target the right group of readers.
This was the first defense Hopkins used when it came to her trademark. Readers were getting confused and she only wanted to help them out. She started by sending emails to several authors who had already released books with the word Cocky in the title, telling them that it was time to change them before she sent an infringement notice.
A source told Vox that Hopkins only waited thirty minutes to inform them that she had sent a copyright infringement notice to Amazon without giving the authors affected a chance to respond.
There were many other authors affected by Hopkins’ trademark and her bold approach. She emailed several authors to tell them about it. The author’s defense was that she was protecting her readers from losing money by ensuring that they bought her books.
The fallout from the romance community was swift. Both #Cockygate and #ByeFaleena started trending. Hopkins tried to defend herself in several Facebook groups, but the only group that we know of which allowed her post to stay up was the business-focused giant 20booksto50k. The post came after a lot of infighting. The mods specifically allowed it to stay up then turned off comments. When it was clear that the topic wasn’t going to go away, and people were still complaining about Faleena, 20booksto50k decided to shut down for the weekend. While this was happening, Amazon was zealously protecting Hopkins’ trademark by taking down any titles with the word ‘cocky’ in them.
In the meantime, Set Sail Studios, the font’s designer, remarked that none of his fonts had licenses which allowed the end user to trademark them.
A fraudulent trademark – if anyone can shed some light would be much appreciated.
— Set Sail Studios (@SetSailStudios) May 5, 2018
There have been many reaction pieces, but it mostly just boils down to this: People were, and are, angry.
They were very angry, for good reason. This trademark directly affects our livelihoods and Hopkins, thinking she was the most successful romance author out of there, wanted to capitalize on them.
Hopkins decided that she was going to answer by using Twitter. When that didn’t seem to get her the response she wanted, she took to Facebook live. Her rant is worth watching in its entirety – if only for how bad she seems to be at performing, especially for an actress. After her Facebook live rant was posted to her page, she deleted it. Hopkins didn’t seem to realize that the internet never forgets.
For those who don’t want to watch, author Jenny Trout did it for you and recapped it.
The timeline is a little difficult to untangle, because it felt like everything was happening at the same time in many different directions. The creator of the 20booksto50k group seemed angry to the point of telling people he would be canceling any upcoming indie author conferences and posting a very long shouting rant as his response.
Around the same time, Author and retired Intellectual Property lawyer Kevin Kneupper decided to challenge the ‘cocky’ trademark. Kneupper is likely to spend tens of thousands of dollars on this challenge, something many indie authors wouldn’t have been able to do individually. The #cockygate debate seemed to have sparked several other controversies, including the trademark of the words ‘rebellion’ and ‘litRPG’.
Many reviews were also taken down during this time. Hopkins turned to her Twitter account to say that it was machine-prompted and had nothing to do with her.
After RWA’s intervention, it looks like Amazon isn’t taking down any titles with the word ‘Cocky’ in them.
This isn’t over. Amazon might not be taking books down anymore, but it doesn’t mean that Hopkins isn’t going to send out more notices and scare people into changing their titles, covers and even manuscripts. In the meantime, romance writers have been flooding the market with cocky related titles.
His Cocky Valet by Cole McCade was an instant, smashing success. Jamila Jasper published The Cockiest Cowboy To Have Ever Cocked. There are anthology calls with the word Cocky in the title. There are many books, including my own. Hopkins can try to come after one of us, but she won’t be able to come after all of us.
And yes, this is a competition. But also? We’re all definitely here to make friends.
Thank you so much for everyone’s kind words about my work following #cockygate! Will reply to all but with limited internet until the 16th. Great to see the creative community band together against this bullying and that’s something positive we can take from it whatever happens!
— Set Sail Studios (@SetSailStudios) 6 May 2018
Do you have thoughts on this trademark battle, readers? Do you think Hopkins got too cocky? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.