I want to write a kids book, but don't imagine selling enough to warrant paying licensing fees. Clearly, I also don't want to infringe copyright laws. I haven't been able to find exactly where the line is, or exactly how to get close to it without crossing over. The book would be based on my own adventures so the fact that it's a Jeep is relevant.
Generally, one word is typically not protected by copyright, by itself, but use of one word may be copyright infringement of a larger work.
One word may be a trademark.
Generally, if one uses a trademark that is confusingly similar to another trademark, as applied to the particular goods/services, there may be trademark infringement.
There also may be trademark dilution regarding using a famous trademark.
You should discuss with an intellectual property attorney in a private consultation.
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The "boundary" about which you are asking is more of a fuzzy gray band than a "line." We can identify parameters used to define it. Fair use of trademarks under the statute requires a non-trademark, good faith, descriptive use. Having a word in the text of a book probably meets that definition so you would probably be on the defensible side. Putting undue emphasis, your illustrator using a logo, or otherwise implying approval or sponsorship by Fiat Chrysler risks getting on the infringing side. Copyright covers text and art, but a single word, or turning an adjective (Jeep four wheel drive vehicle) into a verb might be risky to the trademark owner for other reasons (a Xerox problem when people said "go xerox this") but wouldn't likely be copyright infringement.
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We would really need to understand the context of your use. This isn't, strictly speaking, trademark use, but its possible that you could be presenting a false association with the JEEP brand.
Before you commit to anything, 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-Legal, LLC on the basis of this posting.
No one owns facts, and no owns words per se. What JEEP (actually Daimler Chrysler) owns is the name/symbol as associated with their products, and not just their vehicle, but all kinds of products, probably including paper goods and books.
So while you have the "nominative fair use" right to refer to these kinds of vehicles so your audience knows what you mean, you have to do so as minimally as possible, and you don't have the right to confuse consumers about your affiliation with or endorsement by, this company/brand. So in other words, if anyone buys your book because they mistakenly believe you're part of the JEEP company, that's trademark infringemenbt.
How do you avoid that? That's a matter of being careful with your book's art, and its title, and how it's marketed, which are all thing you should discuss with your own IP lawyer. AVVO comments are free, but they're not all that meaningful, and you can't rely on AVVO lawyers and our anonymous general comments as if it was your own lawyer; all the disclaimers say so, for good reason. If legal advice is something you think of like a license whose cost you can't justify because you don't expect much income from this, then you shouldn't do anything that can get you in a lawsuit that will cost you much more than any license and/or legal consultation.
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