Google sent out copyright infringement letters to the 20 authors featured on the Web site, explaining that the May 4 post by Dubois about her new book “Intimate Art” had been removed pending investigation.
Dubois, who uses a nom de plume to protect her privacy, was named Adele at birth. “It’s my legal first name,” she told me, and added that she had it before the British pop star.
The e-mail from Google stated, “Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog is alleged to infringe upon the copyrights of others.” The e-mail lists the copyright owner as Sony, the copyright work description as “Adele + Exitos” and the “location of the infringing material” as the post by Dubois, which was removed by Google Blogger.
Who instigated the complaint remains a mystery. A “sworn statement” at the end of Google’s e-mail simply says “[private]” under the signature. The statement says, “I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.”
Adele the singer has a recording contract with Columbia Records, which is owned by Sony Music Entertainment. Although names cannot be copyrighted, they can be trademarked. And Adele is trademarked, according to the Trademark Electronic Search System.
Confusing the matter is what the e-mail from Google lists as “the location of the copyrighted work,” a URL that leads to “Guilty Survivor,” a nonfiction memoir about Tamerla Kendall, a survivor of the Bosnian war, by Marianne Stephens, who owns the copyright to the self-published book.
Stephens, the author of six novels and two nonfiction books, is also the owner of the Romance Books ‘R Us (soon to be trademarked, she says) Web site and blog.
Stephens spent more than hour on the phone, trying to reach someone at Google who could help, without success. She’s also contacted the Authors Guild, hoping for assistance. Dubois spoke with a lawyer and has sent a response to Google, disputing the claim. Google has 10 days to investigate. Dubois wonders why Google couldn’t “get to the bottom of this” before pulling the post. Meanwhile, she has a new book to promote.
“I don’t feel like I’ve done anything wrong,” Dubois said. She doesn’t understand how there’s a problem since Sony sells her books on its ebook Web site without complaining about her first name.
“I feel like the ant,” she said, referring to the new movie “Marvel’s The Avengers,” which she saw Sunday. A recurring theme in the movie is the ant and the boot. “But I left the movie feeling hopeful.”
Several bloggers and forums are taking up Dubois’s cause. Author Liz Crowe posted a tongue-in-cheek response to the trademark war. Just this week, she had come under attack for the use of the word “Realtor” in her erotic romantic fiction series about real estate agents.
The use of the word “Realtor” is one I can understand. I remember those weekly Associated Press style quizzes in News 105 at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and my surprise that the term was trademarked by the National Association of Realtors.
But we all use brand names to denote common products in conversation. Do you blow your nose with a Kleenex or a tissue? Get thirsty for a Coke or a soda (or pop in my corner of the Midwest)? Put a Band-Aid or a bandage of your child’s skinned knee?
Frankly, when a brand name becomes common usage, I think it’s a compliment to the popularity of the product. “Building your brand” is the mantra of those in publishing and other businesses, relying on social media to generate buzz about products, whether they be novels or teabags.
On the other hand, trademarking the name of your product will help protect you from imitators and counterfeiters. Musician friends of mine trademarked their moniker, Homestead Pickers, years ago to keep anyone else from going by the same name. Yet it does seem like there’s a difference between Homestead Pickers and a common name such as Adele, ranked 524th out of 4,276 names in the 1990 U.S. Census.
If Princess Diana were still alive, would the legal rights to my own first name belong to someone else?
Diana Reese is a freelance writer in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter at @DianaReese.