To name it or not name it…

Home Forums Writer’s Digest Forum Writers’ Block Party To name it or not name it…

This topic contains 12 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  jIPPity 6 months, 2 weeks ago.

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  • #346680

    Anonymous

    I want my main character to walk into her house and tell her Alexa device to play some music. The question is, do I write, ‘Alexa’ or not? Would I be better off calling it’s more proper term, intelligent personal assistant (which sounds boring let alone confusing) or something more universally generic so I don’t date myself as I am sure ‘Alexa’ will go through many alterations as time passes.

  • #655210

    Anonymous

    Unless you’re writing a “generic future” I’d go with whatever terms are in use at the time of the story. If you’re writing the generic future, you can call it whatever you want.

  • #655211

    timeradrake
    Participant

    Alexa is a trademarked brand name. If you wish to publish your writing, you’ll need to license it. It’s a whole lot easier if you come up with a fictional name for it, whether generic or not.

  • #655212

    jIPPity
    Participant

    robjvargas wrote:
    > Alexa is a trademarked brand name. If you wish to publish your writing,
    > you’ll need to license it. It’s a whole lot easier if you come up with a
    > fictional name for it, whether generic or not.

    Not sure about this. For example, can one not mention that a character uses an iPhone without running afoul of the law?

    –Warren

  • #655213

    timeradrake
    Participant

    wdarcy wrote:
    > robjvargas wrote:
    > > Alexa is a trademarked brand name. If you wish to publish your writing,
    > > you’ll need to license it. It’s a whole lot easier if you come up with a
    > > fictional name for it, whether generic or not.
    >
    > Not sure about this. For example, can one not mention that a character uses an
    > iPhone without running afoul of the law?
    >
    > –Warren

    Think of it a different way: Is it worth the potential trouble? If a publisher doesn’t want the trouble, they’ll tell you to remove it. Does the brand name play such an important role that you even want to deal with it?

    It’s not for me to answer that for you or Brian. I’m no lawyer, so I can’t really advise on this. But I know that some companies (Disney, most notably) defend their trademarks ferociously.

    Trademark isn’t like copyright. If you let people “get away” with using your trademark too much, you can actually lose the trademark.

    Get the advice of an intellectual property lawyer, and be aware that Amazon may or may not care. Are you prepared if they do care?

  • #655214

    Anonymous

    I don’t think mentioning a trademarked name is grounds for a lawsuit. Stories mention Pepsi or Coke or airline names – no one gets sued for that. Now, if you mentioned Alexa in a disparaging way, that might cause some problems, but your publisher and/or attorney could give you the legalese on that. But trademark infringement is usually concerned with a different product trying to horn in on the reputation of the original.

    May want to take a look through this: https://www.uspto.gov/page/about-trademark-infringement Certainly not as good as an attorney’s opinion, but at least you will have a general idea of what’s allowed.

  • #655215

    Anonymous

    I use the device in an almost passing fashion. She walks into the room and asks Alexa to play music from her favorite’s list. It flows better than writing, she walks into the room and asks her digital personal assistant to play music from her favorite’s list. The second sentence, if anything, is more confusing. If anyone has another word for what Alexa is, I’m all ears.

  • #655216

    timeradrake
    Participant

    I don’t know about confusing. Star Trek got along just fine with “Computer.”

    Do you even have to say what it is?

    She walks into the room and calls out, “Play relaxing music.” The soothing instrumental of a string quartet starts flowing through the room.

    Does it matter that it was Alexa, Cortana, or Google Dot that responded to her command?

  • #655217

    Anonymous

    That can work too. Thanks. I guess at this point in our culture, the action of calling out doesn’t have to be explained.

  • #655218

    jIPPity
    Participant

    If Stephen King were sued every time he used a brand name in his novels, he’d be a pauper now.

    I’ve read lots of novels that mention brand names of beer, whiskey, etc. Or car makes. Can we not say a character drives a Buick or a Chevy? Do we have to just say “car”?

    I think the only possible problem with any of this is if you or your characters made a disparaging remark about a brand name, a car make, a restaurant, etc. I would never do that.

    –Warren

  • #655219

    timeradrake
    Participant

    wdarcy wrote:
    > If Stephen King were sued every time he used a brand name in his novels,
    > he’d be a pauper now.
    >
    > I’ve read lots of novels that mention brand names of beer, whiskey, etc.
    > Or car makes. Can we not say a character drives a Buick or a Chevy? Do we
    > have to just say “car”?
    >
    > I think the only possible problem with any of this is if you or your
    > characters made a disparaging remark about a brand name, a car make, a
    > restaurant, etc. I would never do that.
    >
    > –Warren

    Trademark isn’t an outright prohibition. It means that the holder can allow or deny the use of said trademark. Maybe those works licensed the trademark.

    I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King. What trademarks has he used?

    Just a point of curiosity. If you get permission, then you get permission.

  • #655220

    Anonymous
  • #655221

    jIPPity
    Participant

    Thanks so much for all your sources, Shadowwalker.

    What I take away from all this is that it is perfectly ok to use brand names in fiction (this is considered “editorial use”) as long as you don’t disparage the brand or the item. And that it is not necessary to get permission to do so.

    –Warren

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