My question is about publishing under a pen-name. Does it have to be registered as a trademark? If it's not registered as a trademark, can someone sue a writer for using it? Because every name you pick is surely also someone else's name. (Every name I could think of returns thousands of results in Google...) I just basically try to understand how to use a pen name without getting into trouble...Is there maybe a place online where I can get a legal consultation on this topic? Thanks in advance! Jackie
In Massachusetts, the state bar association has a referral service: if you go through them to find a lawyer, the person you talk to will charge only $25 for a half-hour consultation. If your state has something similar and you want a definitive answer, I would encourage you to use it.
That being said, here is my opinion as a non-lawyer: if your pen name is not being used professionally by another writer, and you’re not using the name of someone who is famous for another reason, you should be safe. Basically, you don’t want anyone to be able to convince a judge that you are trying to profit from their reputation.
I have had something like this happen: someone I worked with many years ago, but whom I did not know well, published two books (or more) using my first and last name as a pen name. The problem? First of all, it was an embarrassing book on a psychological disorder, and at least twice in my career I was asked if I had it before I knew about the book. Secondly, we are very different people with very different views, and while my work enjoyed some degree of success later in life, the earlier pen name has been used a few times to misrepresent who the 'Elizabeth Best' is that wrote her vs. my books. One well known book sales company had it set up so that when you clicked her pen name, it went to my books, without a photo. I don't think they did it on purpose, but it caused a great deal of trouble.
In many states, I believe it is illegal to purposefully without permission use someone's name, even if they are not well known as a pen name, precisely because of the possibility of a scam such as above. It can be used to infringe on copyright.
My legal name is being used as a pen name by a writer who is writing erotic books on Amazon Kindle self-publishing. I have a very unique name and it can be easily confused that I wrote the books, and has been by the public as I am a Notary Public Signing Agent and I have gone and go to many people's homes. I have tried to get information on Amazon Kindle's self-publshing policy,but I keep getting the same answer, "sometimes authors use a pen name when they self-publish on Amazon Kindle." My legal name is Poppy Romero. It is unlikely anyone would carry the same name. I have verified with Amazon Kindle that this author is not using my account, but only my name as his pen name. To make matters worse there has been a rumor there is a local prostitute who uses the name Poppy Romero as her alias name. Protecting my identity and character as proven to be a challenge. Notaries public aren't rich people, they serve the public with good intention with low pay, so I don't have the resources to obtain legal counsel, but the U.S. Trademark customer service did give me info on free legal help through a program they have. The customer service said you can't trademark a name, but I have found info to the contrary.
Have you considered a variation of the spelling?
I write short stories and recently fell in love with the name "Guilbeau." I checked around and learned there are quite a few, so I will use a pen name, "Guilbow Grady," which changes the name slightly to one that should't be a problem. I will let you know if there is any "dustup" for any of the real Guilbeau...