Names, Trademarks, and Tom Clancy’s Legacy

By Gary Wayne Gilbert [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

First an foremost, I am sad that the man died so young. I could swear that the world had 20 odd years more of his brilliance in store for perusing.  St. Peter is pleased to greet you at the door, Mr. Clancy.

A friend in a certain mailing list I’ve recently joined was noticing that there are a whole horde of Tom Clancy novels– that weren’t written by Tom Clancy. The quality is uneven, and the plots are not always a fitting tribute to his memory.  I had, in my last wander through Borders (RIP) had discovered the same thing. Ghost Clancies are haunting our bookstores. Should something be done?  I pondered this and wrote a reply, which I thought was worth sharing to a wider audience.  

It has been minimally edited so that people outside the list and outside my head can understand it. 🙂  

My first response was a sour spate about evil contracts that authors find themselves immured in, and the terrible practices of some publishers.  Afterwards, I readdressed my position.

Sometimes you discover you say things off the cuff, and did not think.  Well, it’s true in this case, about Clancy’s “books”.  Mea Culpa!  Be advised I never intended to imply that “publishers are all evil”. More like disparaging sketchy contracts off the cuff. But it occurs to  me that Clancy was probably savvy enough to avoid those… so I regret my comment.  Please keep in mind, I’m no lawyer. If you have questions about my reasoning, please consult one. I’m reasonably confident I’m accurate for general terms, but… I’m human.  YMMV, etc.

However, I’d forgotten that the use of names is now primarily covered by trademark law.  In the gaming world, it’s a pretty infamous fact that TSR basically stole Gary Gygax’s name from him with the sole explanation that it was unique, therefore it was not his property but a trademark of the material he created– which they owned.  So they stole the name his parents gave to him with this courthouse logic. He was forced to publish under a pseudonym that many did not know was him. Book after book of D&D that he never agreed to or sanctioned were sold under his name. You had to look at the editorial page (in the old days, at least) to find out who actually wrote it.   

 

By Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Prince” became “‘Squiggle’ formerly known as ‘Prince'” to explain  patiently to his label that they may own his name, but they did not own him– or ALL his content.   Granted, at that point, the record label had used the fact that “Prince” was a name that the man invented to do work under, therefore it was a trademark and they owned it.  This situation was resolved eventually, but it took years and got very ugly.

By El Pantera (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons Cropped by Me.

By El Pantera (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Cropped by Me.

Granted, many contracts are done with people, and the fine folks …[I am willing to trust so far as to contract with]… I trust to be ethical reasonable and generous. But… if any old body comes along in 15 years, they just might buy up the agreement. Those agreements outlast the individuals involved–  even the entities involved. This leaves certain things vulnerable that people need to protect themselves.  I’ve chosen not to use the name my parents gave me for publication purposes for this reason. Trademark law in this country is sketchy and can be used badly by clever people for ill effect– even outside the good intentions and determinations of those participating in contract.

So I choose caution.  I can, grudgingly, I admit, give up a name I made up, for the purposes of attaining my rights. But the name I was given, the name I built with the love of my life– those belong to me, and whoever was lucky enough to share them with me. Full stop. This is why I choose a pseudonym.

All that being said– another thought occurs to me.  What if this is a thing done by Clancy in the name of charity?  What if Clancy chose to spend his  namesake capital to publicise, say– disabled marine veterans who turn to the pen for financial support?  I would expect this to be publicised far and wide, and not sprung on the unsuspecting reader by surprise. 

 I would expect him to go touring with said veterans in bookstores and give the audiences and fans a chance to meet them. I would expect various military/veterans support organizations to  pitch in and help. I would expect Clarion to join in the efforts and give our heroes support for advancing the craft.

But if Clancy’s health were failing… that might change these plans and lead to a strange situation that we have today.  This is all speculation, but I do this to chastise myself for jumping to conclusions– and to think about the possibilities in this situation.

My $0.25 in today’s currency.

A stencil in SoHo New York. taken by CrazySunshine 17:12, 3 September 2005 (UTC). From Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License  [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A stencil in SoHo New York. taken by CrazySunshine 17:12, 3 September 2005 (UTC).
From Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Margot St. Aubin

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