Recently, I decided to get a trademark for the System Apocalypse® due to a growing concern about its use. Now, before I discuss my personal reasons on this, I figured I should clarify a few things (including why it’s a trademark and not a copyright).
As always, note I’m not a lawyer. This is as I (as best) understand these concepts. I’d be happy to hear from actual lawyers who work in these fields for clarification, but here’s what I got.
Trademarks are basically a word, symbol, phrase, logo, etc that distinguishes a business and/or good and services from its competitors.
Trademarks are created via use.
More details can be found here (for the US).
In many ways, trademarks are much more restrictive since registration (and consideration if trademarks are being violated) is a matter of whether something is likely to create confusion.
As an example – Delta airlines and Delta faucets. Both having trademarks, but in different businesses and thus unlikely to be confused.
A (copyright is a) form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for “original works of authorship”, including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. “Copyright” literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, title, principle, or discovery. Similarly, names, titles, short phrases, slogans, familiar symbols, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, coloring, and listings of contents or ingredients are not subject to copyright.
– – taken from the US Copyright Office Definition.
So, if you look above, a copyright protects the expression of an idea in a tangible form. The System Apocalypse books, in the way they are written are copyrighted.
A copyright violation then isn’t the use of the term ‘system apocalypse’ (since a title can’t be copyrighted – though, there’s been some weirdly approved stuff recently) but say, a book contained these words (or very minor variations of the paragraphs), that would be a violation:
Greetings citizen. As a peaceful and organised immersion into the Galactic Council has been declined (extensively and painfully we might add), your world has been declared a Dungeon World. Thank you. We were getting bored with the 12 that we had previously.
Please note that the process of developing a Dungeon World can be difficult for current inhabitants. We recommend leaving the planet till the process is completed in 373 days, 2 hours, 14 minutes and 12 seconds.
For those of you unable or unwilling to leave, do note that new Dungeons and wandering monsters will spawn intermittently throughout the integration process. All new Dungeons and zones will receive recommended minimum levels, however, during the transition period expect there to be significant volatility in the levels and types of monsters in each Dungeon and zone.
Differences between Trademarks & Copyrights
Firstly, they have very different uses in the way they safeguard your IP. Copyright basically is meant to block people from using works of art without paying you (the artist) for the work. Trademarks are meant to stop confusion about a business and/or brand.
Now, you can’t trademark something you never use. So unlike say a book you write but do not then publish (which is still copyrighted), a trademark would not be valid if you created it but never actually used it for business.
Trademarks are also, unlike copyrights, a civil / business thing. If you sued someone for a trademark violation, it would be a a civil suit with damages, etc. Copyright damages can include jail time.
Also, unlike a copyright, you can lose a trademark if you don’t police the use. Now, the level of policing varies, depending on the trademark holder (see Disney for a group that enforces their trademark and copyrights aggressively) and you can lose a trademark if it becomes generic (which brings with it, its own ball of problems).
Lastly, funnily enough, Trademarks don’t necessarily have an expiry date. So long as you can show continued use, your trademark is fine. However, it should be noted that some of the protections lapse unless you continue registration every 5-10 years.
So Why Trademark System Apocalypse
Ah, now we get to it. Especially if some of you remember my April Fool’s joke a few years ago about copyright System Apocalypse. That’s still a joke since, see above, the idea of copyright a title or series name should not be allowed and is thus, well, part of the humor to me of that entire post.
I trademarked System Apocalypse. Isn’t that similar to trying to trademark the word Cocky or something else closely similar?
Firstly, remember – trademarks are generated via use. I already have a trademark on System Apocalypse just by using it. I just didn’t have it registered.
Secondly, because it’s a trademark, it’s blocking people from using the words System Apocalypse in their product description for ebooks/audiobooks/comics/etc. Basically, in my view, it’s similar to saying ‘Don’t call your book – the Game of Thrones: The Renewal’ or ‘Lord of the Rings: Jumba Juice Edition’.
But… it’s the name for the sub-sub-genre! Well… yes/no. The sub-sub-genre which I love has had my series name used for it a lot. However, before I actually named my series, it never had a true term (partly because like LitRPG, it’s such a brand new sub-genre and there were only a few authors writing in it).
After I launched and started pushing the work out, that’s when the term started being used to describe the sub-sub genre at times. Partly because it’s so damn useful – hey, I occasionally have a way with words sometimes, alright – but it’s really a genre that started before I got involved and it’s a genre that even in Royal Road gets stuck under Post-Apocalyptic. Which, really, isn’t right since it’s more Apocalyptic (at least, in the most common method its tackled). So, RPG Apocalypse might be a more generic and correct term than System Apocalypse.
Which is, personally, where I think things diverge a bit from other cases like the use of the term ‘Cocky’, in that it’s not a single word, it’s restricted to a pair of words that prior to me actually using them, weren’t used together, and frankly; thus far has not become an industry standard term. Vast majority of the books out there don’t title themselves using ‘System Apocalypse’ or the like, because it’s not really necessary, nor is it even how we are categorised.
It is nice that people like using my series name to describe the genre, and I admit, it tickles my ego a bit. However, there’s a danger of a term becoming generic (see Xerox that is nearly generic or cellophane which is) in that you lose your trademark protection.
What does that mean? It means someone could, theoretically, then create a book or a book series and call it ‘System Apocalypse – Version 2’ and sell it. And I wouldn’t be able to stop them, even if it is leaning heavily on a brand that I had spent a lot of time and money developing.
At least for me, right now, the goal is to deal with potential book/audiobooks using the term in their titles/sub-titles,etc. Changing the mind of the general public is actually, weirdly, incredibly difficult and not always guaranteed to help.
So I don’t try. It’s also, I think, bad form to tell your readers they are using your series wrong…
To clarify though, I do want people to write in the sub-genre. In fact, I love reading new works in the genre. Works like Scottie Futch’s Earth Tactics Advanced or Advent: Red Mage are a ton of fun and newer stuff like Quantum Shift bring an interesting take to the entire sub-sub-genre. In that sense, the more people who read/write in the sub-sub genre of post-apocalyptic / apocalyptic LitRPG is good.
Lastly, half the reason I started out the entire process of getting a trademark was so that I could create a brand store. Of course, once I started the process, half the reason I wanted it (specific advertising types) suddenly became available for generic use. Anyway, that’s about it. Brain dead. Feel free to ask questions / leave comments below. Unlike most business post, this is going live on the same day on the website. So feel free to swing by there too.
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