Grossly Generic: “Can I mention brand names in my novel?”

canstockphoto18799595Hi JC,

Is it legal to mention places like Starbucks or sites like Facebook in a fiction novel? I’m writing a book about a couple who meet on Facebook, then later in person at Starbucks. Right now, I’ve been referring to these settings as “the coffee shop” and “the Internet site,” but I’d like to be more specific. Do I have to invent a new social network and coffee shop name?

Sincerely,
Grossly Generic

Dear Generic,

It’s okay to use brand names in your story, as long as those brands are treated with courtesy and respect. In other words, you don’t want your couple to meet at Starbucks to talk about their horrible experiences on Facebook while drinking coffee that makes them both sick. In fact I think that a book that drops a few brand names lends a little more reality and relatability to the story.

The area that probably trips-up most works of fiction is “Trademark dilution.”  This is when a writer confuses a brand name with the service and product it represents. Ever read about the office temp “xeroxing” documents on the copier? Xerox® would prefer that we describe that worker as “photocopying” rather then diluting their brand. And the guy with a head cold doesn’t blow his nose with a kleenex; though he may blow it with a Kleenix® tissue. Mom doesn’t put a band aid on her daughter’s skinned knee; she puts a Band Aid® bandage on it. And the sleuth isn’t googling that clue on the Internet, although she may use the Google® brand search engine for searching the Internet.

For more information about using brand names in fiction, check out Mark Fowler’s blog “Rights of Writers.” Fowler is a New York Attorney working with book and magazine publishers. His article “Can I mention brand name products in my fiction” lists four areas of law to consider when naming brands in your work.

Good luck and keep on writing,

JC

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Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Grossly Generic’s problem?

 

 

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