I’d like you, gentle reader, to take a moment and imagine something really horrific.
Imagine a world where words are the only accepted form of currency. Your ability to secure food, shelter, meet people, fall in love, raise a family, share the joys and heartaches of being connected to humanity are quite literally bought and sold by your ability to use your own voice. If you don’t have enough words in your account, you can’t even SAY the word “apple,” never mind actually purchase a piece of the fruit in question at a store. You can’t speak. You can’t write. You can sign, grunt and say “Yes” or “no.”
And that is IT.
If you don’t have enough words in your account, you can’t even tell your loved ones how you feel about them. You can’t resolve conflicts or work toward resolution. You move through life in silence, your insignificance reinforced by the billions of pointless words wasted by those in power every day to say nothing at all.
You can’t speak. You can’t write. You can’t even express yourself through art. Everything has been trademarked, bought up, mergered, anti-trusted and mergered again until the only people who can speak at all are politicians and corporations. Choosing the limited words you can use wisely can mean the difference between eating and starvation, medical care and death.
This sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it?
But it isn’t.
In the past week, since May 4th, we have seen an author trademark (not copyright, as Leonard Greene claimed) the word “cocky” and use the questionable filing as a club to suppress competition in her lane. We have also witnessed a video game company who quite literally tried to trademark the word “rebellion” as applied to absolutely everything under the sun.
Most of all, we have seen the indie writing community, especially the romance sector, rise up in arms to combat the beginning of the death of the right to express oneself freely and openly, beholden to no one.
Writers organize. We are nonpareils at research. In the past week, many of us have taken the time to examine filings, case law, trademark statutes and regulations, acquiring formidable educations in the nuances of trademark law. I’m not saying we’re qualified to be lawyers in most cases, by any means, but we most certainly could assist our advocates in their advocacy of our intellectual property and freedom of speech.
In the New York Daily News article posted at 9:07pm last night, Leonard Greene’s treatment of #cockygate and the ensuing fallout overlooked all these important points and factors. He reduced a legitimate uprising against the privatization of language, with its far-reaching First Amendment implications which even touch the established press and publishing industries, to a mere catfight, of no more significance or consequence than a handful of women brawling outside a bar over who got to the hot guy first.
As a cishet male romance author, I find this characterization deeply offensive on a number of levels. It was a male author and retired intellectual property attorney who initiated the challenge to the cocky trademark. While many of the voices raised in protest over #cockygate and its ensuing sequel, #rebelliongate, certainly were women, there’s much more to it. Cishet men, the entire LGTBQ spectrum, all races, all religions or lack thereof have been represented.
We all united in one voice for one cause: the freedom to speak.
The freedom to use our stock in trade without having to pay tribute to someone else who has decided the English language is up for sale.
There were so many worthwhile and important ways this story could have been told. Should have been told. And needed to be told.
But Leonard Greene and the New York Daily Times failed abysmally to capture the very real, very serious issues at hand in favor of a derogatory, ill-informed and frankly repugnant slur against romance authors and their sensitive feelings. I’m sure he believed he was being satirical or even witty, but between the hackneyed tropes and focus on authors behaving badly, he only managed to demonstrate a sneer.
The article infantilized women, the romance genre, and the very serious nature of the threat to the right to speak, create and write as we wish. I would have expected a representative of the free press, whose very livelihood and ability to do his job is tied to the broader issue we are fighting against, to dig deeper than a cursory, “What are these wacky women up to now?” leer.
And frankly I feel an apology, and a more serious treatment of #cockygate for its broader implications, is very much in order.