Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Focus On The Act, Not The Actor - Cockygate


I'll probably get flack for this, but what the hell ...

If you haven't come across the hashtags #cockygate #byeFaleena then you're probably not an author.

They're applied to a recent issue where the successful romance author Faleena Hopkins trademarked the word "cocky" in relation to romance book titles, a move that has caused widespread consternation.

If you want to get up to speed then here are some possible source articles (I'm not vouching for any of them, but they all contain parts of the background):
I think it was a dick move to trademark the term, and there are all sorts of issues around whether it should have been allowed, the copyright on the font etc. It has really backfired on her, and I support the current attempts to overturn the trademark.

However, the amount of vitriol and hate that has been poured upon her as a person in many places online is totally out or proportion to what she did. Often cruel stuff, and sometimes based on misunderstandings (for example, it wasn't preventing use of the word Cocky, even in book titles - only in those in the same genre). I am not defending the trademark attempt - as I said already, since I am generally against moves like that and favour more open copyright laws - but I always get an uneasy feeling when I see anyone being vilified online in the way she has been, out of all proportion to the foolish mistake she made. Huge companies get a free pass for acting much worse than this every day (e.g. Apple has over 280 trademarks and won't hesitate to take people to court to defend them, as would Disney, Microsoft, etc etc). Look at all the hassle Amazon [here; here] or Paypal [part 1; part 2] caused me, without provocation or reason. Politicians and councils do worse every week and it quickly fades away.

I'm totally for attacking the way trademarks can work and for overturning this. I'm fine with pointing out why this was a bad move on her part and why others shouldn't do the same. But I think it should always be done in a balanced way, and remember that there's a real person involved, who is probably feeling very bad right now (whatever front they put on as a public persona). Critical (in the true sense) is good. Hatred and attacking are bad. We should always also try and see things from the other side, and make sure we are focussing on the act more than on the individual. Some of the stuff I've seen makes me feel like it's a modern day witchhunt, yet the truth is she made a bad business decision that is causing hassle for some other authors but which will probably get overturned - she hasn't killed anyone's children, or exploited resources from poor countries, or deforested countries for palm oil etc etc. It's just worth bearing that in mind.

She closed a few of her social media accounts since the weekend (e.g. Facebook and Instagram) and most ways of being able to contact her, which is always a worrying sign. This blew up very quickly and I think the anger people naturally felt at the action escalated when fuelled by all the encouragement to target her as a person. It makes me feel concerned and also despairing of how the two sides seem to have pushed each other further into separate corners when an ideal world would have seen cooperation and mutual understanding that led to an outcome that benefited all of them (e.g. Faleena dropping the TM issue and apologising, and other authors in turn supporting her over the issues that led to this in the first place: all authors lifting each other up rather than publicly tearing each other down).

An important rule we should always apply to our own behaviour is: don't be a dick. That doesn't mean we can't be activists. It's important to challenge things and change bad things. But don't go overboard and become personal. Always remember that the person we're facing and disagreeing with is just that - a person too. And the image of ourselves we project publicly, especially on social media, is not always the reality.

Update: I was asked "What the hell did she expect?"

In reality, I imagine she didn't expect the magnitude of this response. Whether that's through naivety, or following bad advice, or because trademarks and branding are standard and everyday things in many areas and go without comment. I certainly don't think she expected it to blow up like this.

I know I have misjudged things myself in the past, sometimes badly, both private and public things. I'm grateful I never got called out on them in such a huge way. None of us are perfect.

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1 comments:

Nancy Catherine Walker said...

I agree that the issue should be the focus of the fight and not her personally. That said I also feel that there was no way for this end amicably. Part of the reason that this blew up so quickly is that she did not limit her complaints to only those works that actually infringed on her copyright. Instead, she systematically sent C&D letters to authors and accused them of trademark infringement. When the authors didn't comply with her demands or pointed out that their works did not infringe the trademark because their work was published first, she complained to Amazon and had the works pulled. This aggressive behavior, in combination with Amazon's automatic removal of any works where infringement is accused, created a loss of income for a lot of people. At last report, Amazon has removed or suppressed almost all works which use the word not only in the title of the work but also as a keyword in e-book versions. Additionally, all reviews which use the word are being removed, regardless of the title of the book. had the author limited her request to works which actually caused infringement then this would have gone a very different direction.