To what extent can you use locations, businesses, etc. from the real world in fiction? I know someone cannot copyright a city, but what about a particular location in the city that's private. Can I talk about the Denver Convention Center and use the actual building layout in a novel? Can I use a particular business, say Hacienda Colorado, in a book?

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    Businesses aren't copyrighted, they're trademarked. Mar 22, 2011 at 0:36
  • The answers might be different for Denver Convention center and Hacienda Colorado. One is a public place, the other is a private business.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 8, 2015 at 21:40
  • Just say this at the end: If I used any name inadvertently please understand it was purely unintentional, and this is work of fiction. Any representation to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. Feb 28, 2017 at 21:26
  • @MarkMichelson But that's just lying, they are asking if they can PURPOSELY add a real-world name in their book. Oct 9, 2020 at 3:40
  • a favorite example is in Clarke's "3001" the author has Frank Poole reference the original Star Trek series and says that Frank met the original actors. Frank Poole of course being played in the movie by Gary Lockwood, who was also in the second pilot episode of Star Trek (the original series)
    – NKCampbell
    Oct 11, 2020 at 2:08

7 Answers 7


Use of trademarked names in fiction does not violate intellectual property laws. There are a couple of things to be wary of nonetheless.

Be careful with the light in which you depict real businesses. As explained here, if you have a character die from a bad hamburger at Burger King or hurt himself because of a defective pair of Reeboks, then prepare for a libel suit.

Similarly, as discussed here, don't turn a trademarked brand name into a verb or a non-proper noun (which lawyers call trademark dilution). In other words, don't have characters "hoovering the living room," "drinking a coke," or "googling their names." Instead, make sure they're "vacuuming the living room with Hoover's wonderful appliance," "enjoying a Coca-Cola," or "performing a search on their names using that awesome Google." Or better yet, stick to vacuum cleaner, soft drink, and search engine. :)

As long as the portrayal is innocuous, and brand names are capitalized and not "genericized," there is no harm and no need for any kind of acknowledgment.

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    Generally, if publishers want trademark acknowledgment page, they'll put it together. It's one of my jobs as an editor for two of the houses I work for. So it's not something an author really needs to worry about. Mar 22, 2011 at 2:31
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    Also, it is good to have common, day to day stuff mentioned in books. Imagine in a hundred, three hundred years. People could have an edition of the book with annotations, explaining that "Xerox" was a brand for a popular photocopying machine. And maybe even explaining what a "photocopy" is. People could be running to the Encyclopedia (or whatever source of information) to get a better picture of our time!
    – iajrz
    Mar 22, 2011 at 11:33
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    I can understand and appreciate the explanations used above (and that this posting is quite old) but aren't "googling" and "xerox/xeroxing" the accepted equivalent of verbs by now (2016)? One doesn't see people described as xeroxing something so much anymore, but almost every day I read authors/journalists explaining that "anyone can Google" something to discover the point they're making.
    – user18542
    Apr 9, 2016 at 19:22
  • @user18542 "Accepted" by whom? Certainly not by the legal teams of those respective IP rights holders.
    – Tashus
    Jan 17, 2019 at 20:32

In fiction writing, it is commonplace to use real life businesses and locations. It's also becoming commonplace to include a section in books that tells the reader who owns the trademark to those businesses. If you don't acknowledge trademarks, you can open yourself to lawsuits from businesses that are trying to protect their trademarks. If a business doesn't protect their trademark, they can lose it.

Also, if you're using real life businesses or people - be very careful what you say. If you say negative things about them or untrue things, you can open yourself up to libel lawsuits as well. (The bigger the company, the bigger the legal department they have.)

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    @Ralph In what types of books have you seen a section telling the reader who owns the trademarks to businesses mentioned in the book? Mar 22, 2011 at 0:50
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    Fiction novels. All of the publishers I edit for require a Trademark Acknowledgment page in the beginning of each book. We have to let people know who owns the trademark for McDonalds or iPod or Vaseline and things like that. Mar 22, 2011 at 0:52
  • @Ralph How interesting. I have never noticed that. Is it for situations where the product plays a significant role in the story, or is it simply any brand name that gets mentioned? And what is the rationale for it? Mar 22, 2011 at 1:00
  • For any brand name that gets mentioned. It's to stop businesses and lawyers from going after the publishers. Businesses have to take steps to protect their trademarks and put a stop to trademark infringement or they can risk losing their trademark - like Band Aid and Hoover did. By acknowledging that the companies own the trademarks, they save themselves a lot of headaches. Mar 22, 2011 at 1:14
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    Franz Kafka and George Orwell would cry for envy that they had failed to mention this kind of freedom of speech.
    – Nerevar
    Mar 22, 2011 at 7:14

Another technique, specifically for fiction, not mentioned above is to create a fake brand from the ground up. A perfect example is Toy Story's "Pizza Planet." It clearly paints a picture reminiscent of Chuck E. Cheese and Showbiz Pizza and just kid-laden arcades in general. But it does so by creating something unique, rather than just changing/genericizing the name of something that already exists. Though, if it is a rather different / hodgepodge concept, it may take up a lot of page-time (as Pizza Planet did) fleshing out its intricacies. So make sure its importance in the story is directly proportionate to its complexity/difference from what the reader is familiar with.


I think it is recommended to check for Trademarked and Copywrited names. don't forget to also look at the site of the business you are looking at. For example, NASA doesn't allow the usage of their logo and names unless something is sponsored.

Trademarked names are O.K. to be used, as long as you don't say anything bad about them.

Good luck on writing your novel!


Your question made me (yes, Google is in my brain, twisting my neuronal arm) think of Google Street View ("a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views from positions along many streets in the world" - Wikipedia).

My point is that the images here blur out things like people's faces, number plates and views into people's bathrooms. This is to ensure that things (and people) are not too personally identifiable (and so that pervs and peepers don't have it too easy). On the other hand, businesses can pay Google to walk around their business premises taking panoramic photographs as they go.

I would suggest that you follow the same model for your novel. Perhaps even take a look on Google Street View for the locations and businesses you want to use and see what has been exposed. If they are that keen on letting Google in, then they might even pay you to write about them.

But not, as others have rightly pointed out, if you say bad things about them.

Good luck with your novel. Robert.


Basically the rule of thumb is... product placement is OK.

if you write, "Bob pulled out his gold iPhone X and made the call." you are ok.

But having your character use a specific Brand SomeXYZ phone as a fragmentation grenade or an incendiary device is not.


To me, naming specific brands is always a bit jarring, since it could be come dated, the reader might have strong opinions about the brand that differ from the viewpoint character, and so forth.

In my own fiction I generally invent the business I write about, and there is often no reason to name them.

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