Trademarking your name is the legal "verification" you'll need to defend against impostor accounts.



A few days ago I was made aware of a new crop of fake Facebook pages impersonating me, and my Hysterical Literature project. This is to be expected, as the series is viral several times over, and has now been seen over 17 million times globally. Crappy knock-off versions and spoofs have been made, and every day I see GIF-rips and still frames with no attribution. I've had to take down hundreds of ripped and re-uploaded copies on YouTube alone. Just taking down the most egregious examples occupies a not-inconsiderable amount of my studio's time, for a project that gets a lot of attention but doesn't generate much income.

But this post isn't about the garden-variety copyright infringement that's rapidly becoming the new normal.

No, this instance alerted me to a related issue I should have anticipated. Something that's a common concern for major brands and celebrities, and one that will be a concern for every artist releasing work online who gets lucky/cursed enough to strike viral "success."

Simple copyright theft is something creators are used to dealing with, and in most cases, copyright is the only legal protection we think we'll need. We see our images pop up all over the place, and in especially egregious cases it's usually (somewhat) easy to issue a takedown notice. Copyright is automatic upon creation, so no special effort is required in order for the artist to legally protect the creation, although there are good reasons to take the extra step of a formal registration.

But what's not protected automatically? Your name. The name of your project. Your brand. And what's embedded in a name? Your reputation, your search results, you text-based face to the world.

All of these impostor accounts had stolen the name of my project in order to fool people into believing they were real. One of these impostor accounts went even further by taking the time to create an Amazon Affiliates account with my own real name, so that my name showed up in the affiliates links they were posting to make money off my project. This had the simultaneous intent of fooling people into thinking this page was affiliated with me, and generating cash for the impostor. Insult, meet injury.

Which is all just a roundabout way of setting up this advice: trademark your name. ASAP.

If you're an artist who sells work or services under your own name, trademark it. If you have a series that you're known for and that generates (or attempts to generate) money, trademark it.

Why? Because automatic copyright protections only cover your specific individual works, not your name/brand/reputation. And so, when you ask an online service to take down a name-based phishing scam like the one I just described, they'll send you a robo-letter referring you to their legal department, which will demand to see a Trademark number. If you don't have one? You're out of luck, and the scam continues to your detriment, and to the detriment of your followers.

Cybersquatting is a thing that major corporations and actual celebrities have had to deal with for a long time. In the dawning age of instant internet micro-celebrity, it's something all artists should be concerned with as well, and trademark registration is one of the only tools we have at our disposal.

Registering your trademark carries a filing fee of $325, although it is strongly advised that you retain a lawyer to shepherd you through the process, and good ones go for about $1000.

Upon my friend Molly Crabapple's recommendation, I retained the Heraty Law firm to handle my various trademark filings, and I've been very pleased with them.

Go do it now, get verified as a human!