Is it legal or illegal to use a brand/item name in a book w/o the brands permission?

I’m unable to find out if it’s legal or illegal to name a brand/car in my books, so I have stayed away from it. For instance, I’d like to describe a car as a rough mix of other cars, naming specific brands and models, but I really don’t wanna upset people’s lawyers or infringe on their rights. I know you can say something like “Character X sounds like Actor Y” without going over the line (Asked the copywrite office, and since it’s a descriptive, not the actor themselves, it’s alright) but I don’t know how to see if that extends to material items like cars, planes, or whatever. If someone could answer or better yet point me to a link with the applicable laws (In plain English) I’d appreciate it, thanks

Update:

I’m not published, but I do have a bunch of copywrited books (Several thousand pages of them lol) and hope to eventually be published. I’ll stick with stuff like saying “Italian Supercar” instead of Ferrarri, or “Classic America Muscle Car” instead of Mustang or Camero. It should be safe enough. Thanks guys 🙂

✅ Answers

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  • The big issues are trademark and defamation. If you make money selling something featuring a trademarked name, even if the trademark was not the primary selling point, you can conceivably have a portion of your profits sued for. If you use the name in a way the brand is not comfortable with, even as innocuous as a weapon in a zombie book, you could conceivably be sued for defamation.

    Here’s a classic example. DrMcNinja is a webcomic. Back in their early years with barely an audience and nothing to sell they made a story featuring Ronald McDonald as an evil corporation owner. It was hilarious. But now that they sell books and tshirts and they’ve become internet famous, they’ve had to go back and change his name to Donald McBonald and change the logo. Every single page.

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    Feel free to use brands in your story. The likelyhood of being sued is so minimal, it’s not worth thinking about. When you get published, copy editors tend to fix brand names for you. I once wrote a short story that mentioned something about a bandaid and my publisher exchanged the word for bandage. I had no idea it was brand name. So really, YOU don’t have anything to worry about. Your editors will worry about it for you. 🙂

  • You don’t need permission to utilize the name of a product in a book. Trademarks exist to carve out rights for certain names in certain markets–the protection exists for those names so that consumers are not confused by a particular product’s source.

    That’s not the case with what you are doing.

    So long as you are using the names descriptively (as opposed to trying to make fun or or make bad claims about a product) you should be fine.

    Please note (and this is just a pet peeve of mine) that the word is copyright, not copywrite.

  • You just write the story and don’t worry about copyrighted names and products.

    The only problem would arise if the story were published and that isn’t your concern.

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