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Can I use real company names?


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#1 arpate92

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 01:21 AM

Hi Everyone!

 

One of my biggest questions I have when writing is, I am allowed to use real company or university names? I know some books use real university and building names but I wasn't sure if you had to get permission from the company to use their name? I am currently working on a novel and the characters attend a university. I have some universities that I would love to use but I wasn't sure if I could use their real names or if I needed to come up with my own. 

 

Thank you in advance!


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#2 Tiffany Simone the Writer

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 11:52 AM

Yes, you can. I do it all the time. Current events, real people, places, and things; makes it more real to the reader. Especially if they have been there or aware of the incident you are speaking about.

In my story I mention the mayor and the police commissioner at the time my story takes place (1988)

The hit ordered by a major drug dealer on a police officer in New York, guarding a drug witness home, it was in the news, a big story in, 1988. I could have used their names, but it was not necessary if relevant to the story.

#3 arpate92

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 11:54 AM

So if I use a real university or store that's ok?


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#4 mwsinclair

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 12:59 PM

I think Tiffany makes an excellent point: is it necessary and relevant to the story?

 

For example, whether we like it or not, saying a character is attending Harvard or Yale conveys something different about her than if she is attending Union County Community College. Or perhaps she was accepted at Princeton but family matters didn't allow her to accept the offer and instead she enrolled in a local college with less prestige. And if that information is important to the story, then it's perfectly fine to mention the real names.

 

But if saying someone is attending a fictional college that you imbue with the characteristics you require -- whether that's prestige or a party-school reputation or something else altogether -- you allow yourself a lot more flexibility. Plus, no one can argue that you didn't accurately depict their beloved alma mater if you make the school up.



#5 arpate92

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 01:19 PM

I think Tiffany makes an excellent point: is it necessary and relevant to the story?

 

For example, whether we like it or not, saying a character is attending Harvard or Yale conveys something different about her than if she is attending Union County Community College. Or perhaps she was accepted at Princeton but family matters didn't allow her to accept the offer and instead she enrolled in a local college with less prestige. And if that information is important to the story, then it's perfectly fine to mention the real names.

 

But if saying someone is attending a fictional college that you imbue with the characteristics you require -- whether that's prestige or a party-school reputation or something else altogether -- you allow yourself a lot more flexibility. Plus, no one can argue that you didn't accurately depict their beloved alma mater if you make the school up.

That's great advice, thank you!


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#6 LucidDreamer

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 02:01 PM

It also depends upon how you characterize the companies or places you mention. If you want to say something "not so nice" about a company or university, for example, you would need to tread carefully. Saying "so and so attended Harvard" is different than saying "when so and so was at Harvard, they noticed the blatant cheating going on, something the administration preferred to ignore." 

 

Actually, it's more problematic with company names -- "I slipped on my <company name> jacket. and noticed another tear in the lining. I don't know why I buy this crap -- it's expensive but never lasts more than two months." -- might be considered defamatory by said company. But if you're just saying, "I slipped on my <company name> jacket," it's probably ok.

 

However, I have noticed that many books include the referenced company names, trademarks, or logos in their disclaimer at the front of the book. (Indicating they have no claims of ownership or affiliation with the companies or products -- they then provide a list of said companies, products, trademarked things, etc.)



#7 arpate92

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Posted 25 February 2015 - 02:40 PM

It also depends upon how you characterize the companies or places you mention. If you want to say something "not so nice" about a company or university, for example, you would need to tread carefully. Saying "so and so attended Harvard" is different than saying "when so and so was at Harvard, they noticed the blatant cheating going on, something the administration preferred to ignore." 

 

Actually, it's more problematic with company names -- "I slipped on my <company name> jacket. and noticed another tear in the lining. I don't know why I buy this crap -- it's expensive but never lasts more than two months." -- might be considered defamatory by said company. But if you're just saying, "I slipped on my <company name> jacket," it's probably ok.

 

However, I have noticed that many books include the referenced company names, trademarks, or logos in their disclaimer at the front of the book. (Indicating they have no claims of ownership or affiliation with the companies or products -- they then provide a list of said companies, products, trademarked things, etc.)

Oh ok great! If I choose to use a real company or school I think I will go the disclaimer route!


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#8 culmo80

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Posted 18 March 2015 - 06:37 AM

Lucid had a great point about saying not-so-nice things about an established company or person.

 

Anybody remember that excellent movie Cliffhanger? (Crickets), Sly Stallone killing bad guys in the Rockies. Well, one scene had a woman fall to her death because a carabiner snapped. Most movie-goers never noticed the small logo on the carabiner, but the company sure did. Considering that company makes a living on selling reliable equipment that WON'T send you falling to your death, they were not happy about how their equipment was shown in the film. Some lawsuits later...and well...

 

The point is, tread carefully. It's one thing to say: "She bought a coke from CVS and walked down the street." It's quite another to say "She bought a coke from CVS and died because all beverages sold by the drug store are tainted."

 

So, if you're doing no harm, you have nothing to worry about. If you have an evil corporation or corrupt politician, use a fictional stand-in.



#9 llLeoll

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Posted 21 March 2015 - 09:28 PM

Of course you can.

 

Example: A main character in my current novel is a smart blue collar kid from Cleveland. He is studying computer engineering at Cleveland State, living at home with his grandparents. His grandfather, a child of the Depression, has him terrified of loans. So he works full time as a chef instead of taking our student loans.

 

The university -- chosen solely for its location -- and his financial situation are clues to his character. I never go over this back story, but imply it. 

 

To my mind, universities are just brands. For instance...

  • being an Cleveland State grad says something different than...
  • being a Harvard grad says something different than...
  • being an Ohio State grad [my Alma Mater, by the way] says something different than...
  • etc..

You would, of course, have to  make sure not to libel a company or institution. So stay away from negative things -- unless you can prove them true. 


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#10 PT Cruiser

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 04:47 PM

I agree with all the great advice from everyone here.

 

Here's something else to consider:  If you're mentioning a business name but you're writing a period piece... make sure the company was actually in business for the time frame of when your book is taking place.  For example:  If you're writing a book that takes place in the 1970s and you're talking about one of your characters who is slipping on their Sketchers shoes before they walk to school - the 'brand' is out of place with the time frame.   Granted this was an 'extreme' example, but you get my point.  Companies come and go as do brands and products.  Some products fade from existence so it's probably a good idea to keep this in mind, too.  :)  Happy writing!



#11 Bridget

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Posted 05 April 2015 - 10:07 PM

If you haven't done so already, take a look at Susan Spann's comments on this topic - http://www.susanspan...rks-in-fiction/



#12 ah_522

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Posted 06 April 2015 - 02:05 AM

I don't see anything wrong, since stories does it all the time, and as others have said, it can imply a certain feel to your character/setting. (Ivies/Oxbridge=elitism, technology products=what OS type you prefer, etc).

 

My MS (NA dystopia) uses my alma mater a lot (indirectly) and The Odyssey as a referential point, and it's supposed to show a certain storyline/mystery for the reader. It's also an inside joke for myself and for my friends who graduated from said uni. And I use it compared to other places because I know it in and out, and no one can point out that I might be "wrong" or be upset that I'm portraying the place incorrectly. 

 

So research, obviously, is my two cents. If you're using a certain school/trademarked name, make sure you know the ins and outs before using it. Otherwise just create a fictitious brand. 

 

Oh, and to add to the trademark problem, I think the microwave company that was used in American Hustle (the scene w/ JLaw), I think they're suing the movie producers for defamatory remarks. Maybe they've settled, but as someone already mentioned, it does happen. 






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