I have a concern, and I wanted to throw in in front of a group of writers with more experience. I'm also trying to formulate it as a comprehensible question, so bear with me.
We live in an environment where trademarks are getting applied to a lot of stuff, and I'm wondering just how worried authors are/should be about such things.
One example that comes to mind-- Starbucks. There's the every-waxing coffee house, of course, but there's also the character in Battlestar Galactica (which if you're old like me you will probably be thinking of two different actors). Obviously, the estate of Herman Melville hasn't taken an interest in this, but did the latter-day version of BG have to make any deals with the coffee conglomerate for the use of the name?
More to the point, if I'm writing a fictional piece, do I need to be concerned if I want to ground my work in reality with a line like "She stepped out of the Starbucks at the corner of 8th and Main and was instantly devoured by the feral children"? Or, Saks, or any other particular establishment?
To some degree, I realize that the problem can be stepped around by avoidance ("She stepped out of the Stellar's Sealion Teas..."), but if one can't do that without the whole story collapsing... must one? If the whole axle upon which the narrative turns is the copyrighted phrase, and changing it render the story a bit of a nonsense, what latitude do we have? As a relatively concrete, real world example, did Mel Tillis have some special dispensation to use the title "Coca-Cola Cowboy" for his song, which seems to not be particularly positive in its use of that phrase? It is, after all, not about the actual beverage....
Euphonious phony tsunami