MT McGuire Books

Avoiding Schoolboy Errors — Legal advice for the creative

I’m creative. As anyone else ‘creative’ will know, that means I only allocate the smallest possible amount of my brain capacity to interaction with the real world. I do this so the rest of my mind can wander to places which are much more interesting. It can make us ‘creatives’ a bit stupid, or blind to the obvious, or something that means trouble… big trouble… as I will now demonstrate.

One of the features in Few Are Chosen is the snurds; flying James Bond cars by any other name. They’re based on real cars, of course, because I’m a petrol head and that’s how they look in my mind’s eye. There’s a gang of bank robbers who drive something that looks like a mark two Jaguar, the hero who drives something 1960s Lotus Elan-shaped and the baddy, like any self respecting baddy anywhere, drives something which looks like a Mercedes. In this case, a rare 1950s roadster prototype called the Uhlenhaut Coupe which… well… it was light, it was fast (it had a modified F1 engine) and frankly, if Mercedes had ever made that thing, I’m sure the marque would enjoy even more blind devotion than it already does. In the end they made two.

So, you may notice that in books, even books about the real world, real products are never mentioned. This is because you have to ask permission to brand owners to do so and they usually say no. Then, of course, if you use their brands in your book, or at least by name, you’re in deep legal doo-doo and we all know the law whups the arse of the vague and unknowing (OK the stupid) more thoroughly than it will ever discipline a criminal. 

The way UK trade marks work is that there are classes — about 47 in all (or is it 64? I’ve never been good with figures, the point is there are lots anyway). 

Every product fits into a class so as, a company or manufacturer you trade mark your logo and company name for the group of products yours falls into (yes the sad thing is, I’ve actually DONE this myself). 

So, if you like the Mercedes tri-pointed star and make fridges, you can go right ahead and use their logo to market your fridge as a homage. However, if you’ve invinted a thing in your head that looks and behaves like a car (except for the wings) calling it a Mercedes or inadvertently including the Mercedes badge on any illustrations of it are a definite no-no. You can describe something as Mercedes-shaped but take the ‘-shaped’ out of that and you are neck-deep in the poop.

And I was…

You would think that I, an ex-brand manager who owned a trade mark of my own, might have born this in mind while writing my book and yes, I did. I was very careful with Jag and Lotus but Mercedes seems to have slipped under the radar, well not slipped under really, I clearly went out to the pub for the night and left the screen unattended for hours. I mention it by name, all the way through, many times without the all important ‑shaped. (Shakes head in wonderment).

Idiot. Yeh. This one.

In short then, here’s the advice:-

When you’re basing anything in your book (or art) on something that exists, make sure that you change it slightly. Call it something different and avoid using the badge. 

Anyone who puts the Mercedes logo on anything that looks and behaves like a car — or describes something that looks and behaves like a car as a ‘black Mercedes’ (even if they mean Mercedes-shaped) is a bit of an idiot and asking to be sued.

MTM, moron of the week, come on down. 

By the way, if you want to reproduce a large amount of text you also need to consult the owner although, I believe you are allowed to quote a small amount — once again the numbers elude me but I think it’s about 15 words — without permission.

So, I’ve spent the last few days removing the Mercedes badge from all the illustrations of Lord Vernon’s wheels and have trawled through the book removing every instance where I have set myself up for disaster which I had, copiously, everywhere. 

And on a positive note, Lord Vernon’s vehicle now has a name — other than Mercedes — it’s the Interceptor and to me, that sounds a lot more cool. 

So there we are. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Posted September 4, 2010 and visited 4537 times, 1 so far today

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