I'm developing a video game and part of the plot involves a cryptocurrency (same function as Bitcoin) named "PitCoin," which is used in the story extensively (and might cast virtual currencies in a bad light). Of course the names are different, but I'm concerned if groups like the Bitcoin foundation can still send a cease/desist letter (or worse) to stop using such a similar-sounding name (with identical functions) in a Rated-R story?
Patent Application Attorney
You would certainly need to consult a trademark attorney who can check if Bitcoin is a registered trademark and if so, then in connection with what goods and/or services. You may be at risk of being sued for trademark infringement or trademark dilution but that would depend on several factors which you will discuss with an IP attorney specializing in trademark law.
This raises a number of possible concerns. But at the end of the day, you are free to sue any name you want in a fictional story. Issues, such as defamation, come up when that party believes you are making false, misleading and injurious statements. Even if you use a different name, but it is reasonable to foresee that the public will make the association you can be help liable. If you really want to steer clear, I would use a name that is clearly not similar to bitcoin.
I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Lapin, LLC on the basis of this posting.
Communications & Media Law Attorney
It could be the case that you may run into some copyright issues. In this case you may want to seek permission from the copyright owner before you invest time, money, labor and effort into something that only later to find out is prohibited. Similarities probably exist in PitCoin and Bitcoin and you may run into some issues of substantial similarity of each including aspects of the plot in question.
Copyright protection is granted in ‘original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.’ So from this we learn that expression is the driving force of copyright law and that it must be an original work of authorship that is fixed. A work is fixed in a tangible medium of expression when it is embodied in a copy or phono record, and a work is created when it is fixed in a copy or phono record for the first time.
If the protected expression in Bitcoin is clearly protected under the federal U.S. Copyright Act, then you may want to get assistance on this issue. Your best bet is to consult with an attorney that has experience with intellectual property law This attorney should have a good understanding of the complexities of your matter and can provide a legal consultation and analysis of your situation. This communication does not constitute legal advice, and is for informational purposes only.
Intellectual Property Law Attorney
BITCOIN is not a registered trademark in the US, and you can poke fun and insult it under free speech. I think you have the right approach, as "PitCoin" [ I would have used "ZitCoin" or "NitwitCoin" to be clearer parody] is obvious to me as a parody. No one would think PitCoin is anything but a "slam" at Bitcoin. I doubt you will draw fire, as insulting reviews of BitCoin are all the rage anyway. And the truth has cast it in an even worse light, anyway, what with the Mt. Gox collapse this week. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-bitcoin-fallout-20140227,0,436944.story and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/27/us-bitcoin-legal-idUSBREA1Q07U20140227
I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is at your sole risk. This is done without compensation as a free public service. I am licensed in IL, MO, TX and I am a Reg. Pat. Atty. so advice in any other jurisdiction is strictly general advice and should be confirmed with an attorney licensed in that jurisdiction.
Estate Planning Attorney
If the referneces cause the reader to make a clear connection between the two and you are casiting one in a false light you could be asking for trouble. There are many businesses that use BTC to make money in various ways, if your stories cast those businesses in a false light, are blatantly false or maliciously intended to harm them you could be looking at legal action or plenty of heat from those businesses.
There are over 50 coins out there so check them out at Vircurex or Cryptsy and remember there are many legitimate hard working businesses using Bitcoin, Litecoin and Peercoin in one way or another to earn a living or suplliment their income.
George D. Greenberg, Esq.
Intellectual Property Law Attorney
Unfortunately, the law does not always provide black and white answers in situations like this. While I personally think your use would be recognized by reasonable consumers as a fictional parody, others may disagree, and may allege that you are creating consumer confusion and/or misleading the public into believing their is an official association between your video game and Bitcoin. I would be especially cautious in a situation like this, because if I were in the shoes of Bitcoin and Bitcoin exchanges, I probably would not want to be associated with a video game (with connotations of gambling). These currencies are having enough problems in the news media and you could expect they would not be fond of a video game that further damages their reputation or tarnishes their image. Thus, a cease and desist letter and/or law suit against you would not be surprising. Would you have good defenses? Probably. But the cost of such a suit could be prohibitive for you. One thing is certain---you need to retain experienced IP counsel to guide you as you make and start to market this video game.