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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

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2 Answers 2

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.

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Or using your work to damage their reputation ("My Life Story, by $celebrity" :-) ). –  Monica Cellio Dec 4 '13 at 18:35

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.

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There is a man in England, with the same first and last names as I. We both cycle, program, and have tried to start our own companies. We have never met. –  hildred Dec 9 '13 at 8:21

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