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Sorry for any mistakes - I'm not a native English speaker. I've started writing my first novel which I would like to attempt to publish. All of the characters are based on my animal toy collection, even though they have different names. I'm also active on a toy collector forum where I have mentioned the new names I gave to my characters. Now, if no one wants to publish the book, everything will be ok :) But if by some miracle someone does publish it, I may possibly have legal issues in case someone finds the forum and realizes that the inspiration for my animal characters were real-life trademarked toys :(

My question is - should I risk contacting the toy manufacturer and ask them for a possibility to use their products as a novel inspiration without mentioning the brand name? Or will it only make things worse?

I know it would probably be way better to just change the names but they are very peculiar and it took me ages to create them. Also, I cannot imagine calling my bears anything else, it would just strike a wrong cord.

If anyone could give me advice, I'd be really grateful.

Thank you!

  • Are the animal toys related to a brand name of toy i.e. Are they Beanie Babies or similarly products marketed by one company? Do these toys have a story related to them... are they all from the same company? None of these are an inherant no, but could help narrow down the legal distinction. But if you came up with the name for the stuffed bear and the bear has no name or story associated with it, then there shouldn't be a problem. If it's an actual named character (i.e. It's Paddington Bear or Teddy Ruxbin) then there could be a problem. – hszmv Aug 8 '17 at 16:05
  • Yes, most of the animals are from the same company and the brand name is not directly related to them. The company produces a whole range of various animal types unitied under the same brand. Each animal comes with his own name and bio written on the package. The animals in my book have different names and different bios. I've actually never read the official bios because I prefer to invent my own :) Thank you! – anna3101 Aug 10 '17 at 11:41
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What you have done is actually rather common practice in fictional productions of any kind. You have in effect created 'mock products', and those are legally fully in the clear, as long as there is something different about them; in this case the name (And this being writing, superficial similarities are in fact easy to deny).

For reference, just look at TV shows where they drink Popsi, eat Oreallys, and drive Mercados

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As weckar pointed out, there really is no issue with this AS LONG AS you don't sit there and say the toy blah blah blah from Lego... then you are drawing a link between an actual product and your world. Everyone has inspirations from things and as such it is not a crime to be inspired by said things.

Make up your own toy company. Many shows, movies, and other media tend to do a spoof on things so that they don't run into legal issues. I can't tell you how many fictitious coffee shops I have seen with a logo that looks SIMILAR to starbucks with a semi similar name, but obviously different. It helps the audience to know you are referencing something about them without actually copying since the logo and name are different.

Ultimately the audience is smart enough to draw the conclusions that your inspiration is from the real thing. Just make sure you don't actually mention the real thing. Spoof it.

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The answers provided are good, and represent the safest route you can take in this regard. (i.e. not using trademarked names.)

However, in the US, if the intent is clearly parody, use is protected.

For reference, you might research Mike Judge's use of Starbucks in the film Idiocracy, or National Lampoon's history of book parodies.

That said, you could always reach out to publishers to gauge interest--if your book is regarded as both marketable and a good marketing vehicle for the toys you celebrate, there might be interest in that product placement is an incredibly desirable form of advertising.

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Per your clarification to my question in your OP:

Seems fine to me. This is adding something new to the concept and that is perfectly fine. And the fact that you haven't actually read the bios is actually pretty good forward thinking on your parts, because it helps establish that any likeness wasn't intentional. I would say as a just to be sure approach, write down the names and bios of all your characters, then have a trusted friend or family member take a look at the actual character bio and inform you only if a character just happens to look to similar to it's inspiration. I'd have this person list only concerns he or she see could be problematic in your character, but not why it is so with relation to the toy. For example, if your Bear character has super-strength, it's better to know that that is problematic, rather than your friend telling it's problematic because the toy's bio says it's the strongest on the team. It also adds as a check on Animal attribute association, which is a basic idea in some cultures, certain animals are associated with certain personalities as a rule (A wise owl, a slow sloth, an elderly turtle, a loyal dog, a dirty cowardly rat, a honey eating bear, ect). It also helps to check up on various animal personalities from around the world, they're not universal. For example, there are a series of Russian jokes that often revolve around that the paring off of a bear and a fox among a cast of other animals. These jokes only work to those who understand the Russian animal steryotypes (The Bear is a simple minded brute, but not an idiot, where as in the west, Bears are simple minded brutes that stupid and gullible. Similarly, the Fox in Russia is deceptive, but everyone knows it, so she can't get away with it, and usually the lone female among the rest of the animals, where as in the west, the Fox is more of a sly, cunning creature who often bests his rivals by outwitting them and getting away with it and is usually a male). The punchline to the joke where a bunch of animals are playing poker is "The Bear says 'If I catch anyone cheating, I will break her nose.'" Is funny because the Bear's threat implies he's trying to be threaten the room at large, but everyone knows its the fox alone he's threatening because he's very much aware of her tricks. It's not funny to westerners because, well, I have to go through a literary critique before I can even tell the joke. But knowing that can broaden your rational that the character is still safe.

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