Should I change the name of fictional companies when they were created after I published my book?

Let's say that one of my company names is "Cetus Industries" and Cetus Industries is responsible of making deadly weapons using artificial intelligence and are terribly immoral in the story. If a company under the same name was founded after the publishing of my book, do I have to change the name of the company inside the book or not? Can there be a legal consequence for doing so?

2 Answers 2


I am not a lawyer. But if you can prove you invented the name in your fiction and published it before that company existed, then no. If you can show that your writing was published (in any way, even posted to your personal blog) before they registered their company, then I don't think you can possibly be held liable for defaming a company before it even existed. You cannot defame something that did not even exist.

It would be like me founding a corporation called "The Borg" and then suing Paramount because Star Trek the Next Generation gives "The Borg" a bad name.

There are no "retroactive trademark" laws.


No, first of all, names cannot be copyrighted. There are a ton of companies in the U.S. that are named some variation of Acme, because the word means pinicle or peak and being an "AC" word ensures that it will be first in placement in the yellow pages (in other words, all the various Acme companies were named to be SEO strong back in the day.).

That said, most writers or publishers can get away with this by saying that the names of characters are entirely fictional and any similarities to real life are coincidences to cover it.

But I've seen a book series where the heroes learn that a local McDonald's restaurant had a secret entrance to the headquarters of a secret alien invasion that's goal was to enslave humanity. Yes, it was the McDonald's you were thinking of... the password to get into the base was to order "A Happy Meal with extra Happy."

As someone who worked at McDonald's before, I can say for fact that I'm pretty sure the company wasn't in the business of enslaving all of humanity (though, I can understand where it would seem plausible) and I'm sure that the higher ups chuckled at the joke and realized that they didn't have a case.

So what case does a company that didn't exist prior to your published book have? Part of the Defamation case is that the lie has to be presented as fact. It's hard to do that when your book is sold in the fiction section.

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