Judge Cock(y)blocks Author Faleena Hopkins' Demand Other Authors Stop Using The Word 'Cocky' In Their Titles
from the 40-percent-decrease-in-cocksureness dept
Romance novelist Faleena Hopkins recently turned the rest of the genre against her by deciding — with the USPTO’s blessing — she was the only person who could use the word “cocky” in a book title. Given the nature of romance novels, the striking of the word “cocky” left precious few terms capable of describing a certain blend of bravado and sexual prowess.
The backlash was not only immediate, but thorough. Authors hit with cease-and-desist notices posted these to social media. One writer filed a petition with the USPTO to have the recently-acquired trademark invalidated. To top everything off, the Authors Guild of America joined forces with two of the authors Hopkins sued. What Hopkins likely felt would be an easy win in a trademark infringement case is turning into another cautionary tale about questionable IP and heavy-handed enforcement.
As The Guardian reports, Hopkins has already been handed a loss in her lawsuit against author Tara Crescent and publicist Jennifer Watson.
In the case, heard in a New York court on Friday, judge Alvin Hellerstein described romance readers as “sophisticated purchasers” unlikely to be confused between different authors’ books, found that cocky was a “weak trademark”, and denied Hopkins’s motion for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order to stop the publication of books with the word “cocky” in the title.
The lawsuit isn’t dead, but authors are still free to use the word “cocky” in book titles until everything’s settled. The oral arguments [PDF] suggest the judge doesn’t find Hopkins trademark arguments persuasive. Instead, the judge points out any restraining order would cause damage to the people Hopkins is suing, far outweighing anything Hopkins might suffer if other “cocky” products remain on the market.
[I]t seems to me that defendant, who is on the market with her romance novels, if restrained, would also suffer damage and it would be irreparable. If a book is taken off the market, it can’t be sold. Books of this nature have to do with timeliness as well. So I can’t say that there is any balance here. If there is, it is likely to tip in defendants’ favor because a good portion of injury by the plaintiff would be compensable in damages and captured profits. So that factor is in favor of defendant.
Whether an injunction is in the public interest, given the way these trademarks are used, I don’t think there is much of a public interest in them.
Here plaintiff can’t demonstrate that its trademark merits protection, nor in my opinion that defendant’s use of a similar mark is likely to cause consumer confusion. Those are the eight factors that we just talked about. Accordingly, the motion for a TRO and for a preliminary injunction is denied.
And there’s this, which has nothing to say about the merits of the case, but does provide a brief glimpse of the intersection of the court of public opinion and the US federal court system.
THE COURT: You present in your papers about a dozen instances of prior use of “Cocky” in a title: Bite Me Cocky; A Little Bit Cocky; The Cocky Cowboy; Cocky Balls Boa, described as an erotic parody; Cocky Cowboys; Cocky SWATS; Cocky: A Stepbrother Romance; Cocky: A Cowboy Stepbrother Romance; and so on.
MR. REUBER: Your Honor, if I may?
THE COURT: No. You are out of the case.
MR. REUBER: I understand, your Honor. But I penned the brief, and there is an error that my client alerted me to this morning in the brief. Specifically, it is first one you just read, Bite Me Cocky, published in 2012. He has learned that that title may have changed as a result of the Cockygate sort of disputes. It might have been originally published as Bite Me and not Bite Me Cocky. I just wanted to point that out.
THE COURT: Originally Bite Me, then it became Bite Me Cocky?
MR. REUBER: Yes, your Honor. That was our understanding.
THE COURT: What is the explanation for the change?
MR. REUBER: As a protest, effectively. That is our best guess.
THE COURT: In response to the protest, he added the word “Cocky”?
MR. REUBER: In response to Cockygate registrations, yes, we believe the author added the word “Cocky” as a protest. That is pure supposition on our part, your Honor. We have only been doing this for about 48 hours.
The challenge of the trademark continues, as is noted at the USPTO website. If everything continues down this road, Faleena Hopkins won’t have any trademarks to bully people with, much less a lawsuit victory to justify her bullying behavior.