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Hello Nori,
I am working on a science fiction novel that uses the names of real products, corporations, and organizations.  It is my intention to try to get the novel published upon completion.  I'm concerned about getting into a legal mess or encountering other unforseen perils because of usage of the real names.   I've tried to research this subject and it seems like a lot of people advise against it, though at the same time I can think of a number of fictional books just off the top of my head that use the names of real products, companies, etc.  How do they get away with it?  Any insight you have into this topic would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks in advance.

Dear Kristen,
Thank you for your questions. There are a couple of ways you can use a company's trademarked name that would make them mad. First, you could show their product in a bad light. This could be anything, for example, suppose you write a scene where gangsters are drinking a particular brand of whiskey. The company may feel that you tarnished their image, as though only gangsters like their product.
Avoid criticizing a brand name directly, like if you write a story about what a bad company such-and-such is, and how all their products are inferior.
Anything that's not defamatory should be okay.
Another situation is if you try to use a brand name to make money, like if you try to pass your book off as a product of the Disney company, or something like that.
Companies also don't like it if you use their brand name to refer to a generic product, or worse, make it into a verb. Like if you say, "Please  Xerox this." You should say, "Please photocopy this."
If you just have a bunch of ordinary neighborhood guys sitting around watching the game, and they are eating Doritos and drinking Pepsi, that should be fine. As a writer you want to have as much specific detail as possible. Like if your character goes to the beach and has to have her Neutrogena sun block, that should be fine. It doesn't criticize the product and adds a lot to the character. Another character might be addicted to her MTV or C-SPAN, or might catch an episode of ABC World News Tonight. That's all fine.
However, if you are going to use a product in a scene that could have negative connotations, consult an entertainment attorney.
I hope this helps,

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Nori J. Muster


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