Thursday, August 18, 2016

Reality Specifics And Permission

I feel the need to return to a topic I've talked about before - the need to be careful in the "reality" you write about.  I think most good writers make their worlds as specific as possible.  Specificity gets people to relate to the work.  Most people have been to McDonalds or had a Coke on a hot day, so the inclusion of such products in books draws them into the world a little more since they can relate.  Unfortunately, lots of us lose sight of the fact that we should tread carefully when getting product specific.

You can use product names in your work, provided you don't cross the line.  Those lines include trademark tarnishment or defamation.  In other words, if your use of the product can be interpreted to be used in some negative way, you might have an issue on your hands.  There's no issue, for example, in your character drinking a Coke since that's what you do with Coke and you're not trying to sell the product.  On the other hand, if you made a comment about Coke dissolving your fingers like acid, then you might have a problem since Coke clearly doesn't do that, even if you think it's a cool storyline device.

If a product is going to play more than a passing role, the safe thing to do is to obtain that company's permission.  For example, in Akeldama, my main character uses a Glock 17.  He does this because I own one and am familiar with it(yes, I'm every bit as lazy as anyone else...using the Glock 17, aside from it being a fine pistol, also made it easy for me since I had to do less research).  However, since it's more than a passing reference, I contacted and got specific permission from Glock to use their product in my book.

And remember - some entities will not give you that permission.  A vampire attack occurs early in Akeldama on the campus of a major college in the Midwest.  When I contacted the school in question, they explicitly told me I did not have their permission, so I changed the setting to a generic school in the panhandle of Texas since it was the action that was important rather than the location.  Had I included the school anyway, I could've faced legal trouble for doing so.

The safest bet is to simply make up names for products, but this lessens the realism we sometimes want.  Strike a balance if you can and include some realism.  Just be careful when you do.  Yes, unless your work really takes off, you're likely not going to encounter any difficulties, but what if you hit the jackpot and your work becomes a bestseller?  Wouldn't you rather snatch up adoring press interviews instead of worrying about legal bills?

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