I know I haven’t written a blog post in a long while. What with working all the time; helping other authors get their books published; applying for a new job and hoping that the fact I am self-published doesn’t prevent me from getting considered; and spending two or three hours a week working on a new series, I’m afraid I stretched myself too thin and had to stop with the blog posts. So why am I writing today? Because for the past two weeks there has been a little stir within the writing community, all started by some obscure author named Faleena Hopkins.
What did she do?
Ms. Hopkins decided to trademark a single word, a very common word within the English language, the word cocky. “I am building a brand,” she said in a live stream video she put on Facebook, which has since been taken down. A copy of the video showed up on Youtube, which she also had taken down, claiming copyright infringement. Basically, Hopkins chose to get the word cocky trademarked in addition to marking her series name so that she could protect her brand and kill her competition by threatening them with lawsuits due to trademark violation. How she managed to get the trademark on the word cocky is beyond me because you cannot copyright a word that everyone uses. You can trademark a logo and a series title but not a single, commonly used word. This is why I am confused as to how she managed to get the word cocky itself trademarked. You can look up her trademark claim and see that she did get the word trademarked. And here is the beginning of #cockygate.
Because she feels empowered with her trademark, Hopkins has sent cease and desist emails to other authors within the romance genre who used the word cocky in their book titles, telling them that if they do not remove the word from their titles, she will sue them in court and win, taking all of their royalties. Nice lady, huh? One romance author to get such a letter was Jamila Jasper. She had a book called Cocky Cowboy but took it down and renamed it. Other authors have received similar emails.
Author Kevin Kneupper, who is also a retired attorney has filed a petition to cancel the trademark and is challenging it. He has expressed concern about the word cocky being trademarked and is not the only one. If a single word can be copyrighted where no one else can use it, then any word can be trademarked, and it won’t just affect the publishing industry, but every industry.
What if all dystopian authors decide to trademark: liberty, rebellion, downfall, or freedom?
What if all fantasy authors decide to trademark: legend, sword, dragon, or prophecy?
What if all science fiction authors decide to trademark: spaceship, odyssey, fleet, or blackhole?
What if all mystery writers decide to trademark: murder, mystery, death, or foul?
You get where I am going with this. If people in any industry can trademark a single, commonly used word, that industry will crumple within a year.
The RWA (Romance Writers of America) have banded together to challenge Hopkins and I encourage everyone to join with them. Because of Hopkins, many romance authors with the word cocky in the title of their books are finding their books being taken down by Amazon due to trademark infringement, losing sales and reviews. Didn’t Hopkins promise in her letter that they wouldn’t lose any of that? Yeah, she lied.
Tara Crescent found her books (Cocky Doctors and Cocky Firefighter) taken down by Amazon and received this letter from them as well.
Some authors have changed their book titles so as not to be punished by Amazon or face a lawsuit in court because, as indies, they do not have the funds to fight this. This is why they need to join the RWA, who is fighting it and has the means to do so.
Who is Faleena Hopkins?
I never heard of here until #cockygate and I am certain that none of you have either, which is odd, considering she claims to have sold over 600,000 copies of her books in the Cocky Brothers series and to have millions of readers salivating for her next book. According to her IMB page, she was an actress who turned author, turned photographer, and now filmmaker. You can go to her website and read her blog where she goes on about how great and talented she is and how she single-handedly changed the indie publishing industry. She’s full of herself. I’ll give her one thing though: she knows how to set up a brand.
And this brings us to why she trademarked cocky to begin with.
According to Hopkins, she had to trademark cocky because everyone was copying her book title, covers, and well, everything she did; and she must protect her readers. As a side note she adds that of course, it can’t be everyone because there were books with the word cocky in the title published prior to the first book in her
Cocky Brothers Series: Cocky Roomie. She also said that her readers wrote to her, claiming to have bought books they thought were part of her series only to learn that they weren’t; so, she’s protecting them. Nothing like publicly stating that you think your readers are stupid. If your readers don’t know if you wrote the book or not, then they weren’t very devoted to begin with. On the top of every book product page is the title and author name. There is no way for a reader to mistake someone else’s book as hers. Also, if you accidentally buy a book, Amazon has a seven day return policy and you can return it for a full refund.
All of her claims are BS.
Romance books have long used the same words in their titles, especially those that have a double innuendo. Books were published before hers with “cocky” in the title. According to her logic, she is copying them by using the same word. How about that, Faleena? Hmmm? The point is, she invented nothing new.
Copying her covers? Seriously? A bit full of herself, isn’t she? In her blog, she states that her first books in the Cocky Brothers Series used stock images for the covers. Stock images can be purchased by anyone willing to buy the license to use them. Because they are stock images, you are bound to find the same images on other covers. That doesn’t mean people are copying you. But according to Hopkins, it does. She claims that readers wrote to her, concerned that other authors had copied her book covers. Again, I am calling BS on this claim. Every reader knows that you are going to find similar looking covers in the same genre. You also cannot copyright cover art, unless you did the illustrations yourself, or you hired an illustrator to create a unique cover for your book, which does not use stock images, and who also gave you the copyright to the artwork itself. This is what I do.
But Hopkins chose to use stock photos and you cannot copyright those because the photographer holds all rights to it and is simply granting permission for you to use them, so long as you buy the rights. However, Hopkins stated that she got tired of buying stock images and started photographing her own models to use on her covers. Nothing wrong with that, and if someone uses a photo she took herself, then she has a copyright infringement claim. But if someone uses a stock image to create a romance cover that not only looks like hers, but like all the thousands of other romance books that have been published, then she has no infringement claim at all. Her covers look just like the covers of books published prior to hers. So, who is copying whom, Faleena?
Harassing Other Authors
It wasn’t long after she got her trademark that Faleena chose to send threatening emails to other romance authors with the word cocky in the title. One author was Jamila Jasper.
The email read:
My name is Faleena Hopkins, author of Cocker Brothers, The Cocky Series,
The Federal Trademark Commission has granted me the official registered trademark of the word/mark “Cocky”, no matter the font.
Trademark Registration number: 5447836
I am writing to you out of professional respect so that you may rename your book “Cocky Cowboy” which shares the same title as my book, and republish all of the versions (ebook, paperback, and Audible) on Amazon to keep your ratings and money earned.
My attorney at Morris Yom Entertainment Law has advised me that if I sue you I will win all the monies you have earned on this title, plus lawyer fees will be paid by you as well.
I will do that – but I would rather give you the option.
I have had this series established since June 16, 2016 and I take all of the hard work I put into establishing it very seriously.
Your hard work I also take seriously.
You have the opportunity to adjust, rename, and republish before taking further action. You can do so on Amazon without losing reviews.
Hopkins says that Jamila can rename and republish easily through Amazon without losing reviews. As a self-published author herself, she knows that this is not true. When an author changes the title of their book, they have to get a new cover; reformat a new file for all ebook platforms and print platforms with the new title; republish, which means getting a new product page, meaning lost reviews; file for a new copyright claim or amend the original copyright claim; all of which takes time and money. Hopkins knows this and she doesn’t care.
The cost of self-publishing is enormous, which is why I call it an expensive hobby. It breaks down like this:
Covers: $200-$500 per cover. Any changes will incur additional charges and this assumes that you can get a hold of the cover artist to begin with. If you hired someone on Fiverr or Odesk, there is always a chance that they closed their gig. I routinely pay $200 per book cover.
Formatting for ebook and print: $500-$1,000 easy, if you want a professional look; and you want a professional look. Any changes will incur additional charges. Or you can do it yourself and have a terrible looking product. I took the time to learn how to professionally format my books so that they would match the major publishing houses, and so I didn’t always have to hire a formatter; but it took me six years to learn it.
Promotional materials: Anywhere from $100-$1,000, depending on what you purchase and how many social media ads you intend to run or where you go to promote. A single Bookbub starts at $300 and I think it’s $400 for romance.
ARC copies and Print giveaways: $100-$300, depending on how much the book costs to print. Some authors like to send out arcs or buy print copies of their books that they can take with them to book shows or donate to libraries. If they change the title of the book, that makes these copies useless and they have to purchase new ones.
Copyright filing: When you publish a book, it is best to file for a copyright which costs $55 per claim. You also have to send in two hard copies of your book to the Library of Congress, which you have to purchase and have sent to you before filling out the form the LOC gives you. Then, you get to pay the shipping costs to send the two copies to the address the LOC gives you. If you amend a claim, you have to send in two new copies of your book. It can take months, even a year, to get the copyright certificate.
It’s not such an easy thing to change the title of a book once it is published and Hopkins knows this, meaning that she is lying in her letters.
Something worth mentioning here is when Hopkins says that changing the title won’t cost Jasper anything, she felt differently when it came to one of her books. When she was faced with the dilemma of changing a title on one of her books, she chose not to because of the difficulty of doing so. The sixth book in her series was called Cocky Soldier, but a reader complained about it being inaccurate because the soldier in the story is a marine and marines do not refer to themselves as a “a soldier”; they always refer to themselves as “a marine”. NEVER refer to a marine as a soldier. Instead of changing the title, she put a letter at the end of her book. It has since come to light that she has now changed the title and cover of book 6 in her Cocky Brothers Series, probably because someone brought this letter to the attention of those criticizing her.
When people first reacted to Hopkins’ trademark claim and her cease and desist letters, she was pretty cocky herself, issuing tweets about “let the public stoning commence” and “MMMMM the popcorn’s good, too”. A bit arrogant and completely dismissive of people’s concerns about her actions. She was nonchalant about the whole thing, but her attitude changed within a day.
I’m the victim!
With all of the fallout over her trademark and unethical actions, Hopkins later decided to play the victim. She took to Facebook and live streamed a video where she played the victim card; cussed out those challenging her; accused people of bullying her, her cover models, and her readers; and then spent an hour and a half talking about her success, how she revolutionized the publishing industry, and promoting her masterclass that she intends to offer.
Anyone who wants a copy of the live stream video can go here. I suggest you get it while you can before she has it taken down. She is trying really hard to hide this video and keep people from viewing it.
Let’s look at some of the highlights in case you don’t want to slog through 2 hours of a narcissist going on about herself and how great she is, while throwing in some dramatic pauses, the slow stare into the camera, and fake tears.
“I’m creating a brand. You only wrote one book!”
This is laughable and insulting. It’s fine that she is building a brand, and you are allowed to trademark a series title, but that doesn’t mean that no one else can use the same words in the title of their books. For instance, Hopkins can trademark Cocky Brother Series, but she cannot prevent someone else from using the title Cocky Cowboy just because the word cocky is in it. Unfortunately, she did trademarked both the series title and a single word; and again, I don’t know how she managed to get it through.
But so she’s building a brand! Every author builds a brand. James Patterson has a brand. Stephen King has a brand. Nora Roberts has a brand. Hopkins is not the first to do this. To accuse those challenging her of only having written one book is ridiculous and arrogant. She doesn’t know these people personally and I doubt she has looked them all up. The majority of authors I know have more than one book published, and usually within a series. Sorry, Faleena, but the people challenging you have written a series of books, just like you.
“I have sold over half a million copies of my books.”
At the back of her book she claims to have sold over 600,000 copies. Congrats. She’s sold half a million books. I have sold about 100,000 copies of my books and about 50,000 copies of my Solaris Seethes, but they were free downloads. This is what Hopkins is not telling you. For a time, her books were free, and because they are part of KDP Select, she probably runs free promotions like a lot of authors. This is nothing new. To get sales and momentum, Hopkins probably runs a free promo the first week she publishes a new book. Using sites like Bookbub, Bookgorilla, and freebooksy; she can easily get 50,000 downloads in a day. After a 5 day promo, if done right, she could have close to 100,000. If she did this for each book in her 18 book series, then it’s easy to believe that she had 600,000 books sold, but they were mostly free downloads; though she wants you to believe that they were paid sales.
“Don’t attack my readers. Don’t attack my family. Don’t come after my cover models.”
Here Hopkins is flat out lying in an attempt to paint those challenging her trademark claim as evil people and her the poor victim. When scrolling through the tweets of others, no one has said one mean thing about her readers, family, or cover models. All the ire has been directed at her.
“Bring me your hate. Focus on me! I can take it!”
Here, she is trying to be the sacrificial martyr. Everything has been directed at her and she knows it.
Also, she apparently can’t take the heat because her Facebook page and Instagram page were both deleted by her with 48 hours of the fallout. Within hours of posting her video, she deleted it and she is doing her best to stop others from posting it.
“Don’t blame me. Blame the person who copied my book by writing her own cocky book a month after I wrote mine! That’s why I filed for a trademark.”
Yeah, how dare someone write a book similar to hers. I don’t know if this claim is true or not but I’m leaning towards not true. The thing is, just because someone used the same word in the title, does not mean that they copied her. Now if they wrote the same exact story, she might have a copyright infringement claim, but all we have is her word that someone copied her. She never released the title of this supposed book and the name of the author who copied her, so no one can verify her claim.
“People are disgusted with what you are doing. And they are no longer buying your books. There are millions of people out there all waiting for my books.”
No, people are not disgusted with those challenging her; they are disgusted with her.
Does she have a crystal ball that shows her how no one is buying the books of the people upset with her? Come on. People are still purchasing from her competitors. It’s her books that are hurting.
As for the millions of people dying to read her books—whatever, lady. If that is true, then why the live pity party?
“You’re the bully! I have found books with my name used for the characters.”
Hopkins brings this up as supposed proof of her being bullied by other authors. But, how does she know they named their characters Faleena as a way to insult her? It could be they liked the name. When I pick names for my characters, I just go through a dictionary of names and try to pick ones I haven’t used before, but by her logic, authors are bullying people who share the same name as the characters in their books.
The video continues with her fake tears; her looking away from the camera before dramatically looking back at it, the histrionic pauses and sighs—all the stuff you learn to do in an Acting 101 class—before turning into a puff piece about how she became successful; and a promotional blurb for her soon to be offered masterclass on how to be successful like her.
“Face me in court. Let’s see what’s really behind that avatar.”
Hopkins is trying to be a tough chick here, but it’s a façade. The majority of those on social media expressing their discontent towards her actions have their own face in their profile photo, not an avatar. They’re not hiding themselves.
What Happens Now?
For now, all people within the writing community can do is wait. The challenge to Hopkins’ trademark has been filed, but it can take up to 18 months for a decision to be reached. All we can do is hope that they rule in favor of RWA and those of us against the trademarking of the word cocky. Amazon has agreed to stop removing books and reviews with the word cocky in them until an official decision has been reached. Also, two NYC attorneys have agreed to work on the case as well.
Another broad and wide-reaching trademark has come to light. Apparently, Rebellion Publishing requested a trademark for the word rebellion. This means that people with the word rebellion in their book title will see the same cease and desist letters and face the same consequences as those who have the word cocky. The agency was contacted and they agreed to modify their request so as to protect their brand, but not harm authors who use the word rebellion in their book titles. At least they have some class, whereas Faleena Hopkins is just a greedy bitch.
So, why did Hopkins do this?
According to her, it was to protect her brand, but that just doesn’t ring true. An author can protect their brand without harming others and without threatening lawsuits. Truth is, Hopkins did this as a way to eradicate her competition. Within days of getting her trademark for the word cocky she sent threatening emails to other romance authors with the same word in their book titles, authors who are selling quite well but are also indies like her, meaning that they do not have the funds to fight her in court. She had have already had a list of people she planned to go after. It’s greed, pure and simple. She wants to dominate her chosen genre, but she can’t do it honestly by writing quality that outsells everyone else. She does it by shutting down competing authors and then claims that she was only protecting herself and her readers. Her bank book is what she’s protecting.
I also believe that this was nothing more than a poor planned publicity stunt. Publicity is publicity even if it’s negative. Think about it. Not many knew who Faleena Hopkins was until #cockygate. Her stunt worked and some people, who would never have thought to look at her books before, are looking them up. Whether they buy them or not is another matter.
Like a lot of people, I never heard of Faleena Hopkins until #cockygate. I looked her up, found some articles online about it, borrowed one of her books to learn what her brand is, and decided that I will never read anymore of her works. Her books are trash. The writing is terrible and juvenile, relying on cussing to make a point instead of clean prose. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind some cursing and understand that it can be useful within dialogue, but the F word is used in almost every sentence, making the book tedious to read. It’s ridiculous. She’s just trying to make money by selling smut, but she can’t even write it well. There is better erotica out there. Thanks to her actions and treatment of other authors, Faleena Hopkins will forever be on my DNB and DNR list.
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