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More Fun With "For Dummies" Trademarks 179

tonescope wrote to us with a fun narrative from Oz about Corporate Standover Tactics for Dummies in which Octapod, a small non-profit arts group has done a fun job of cataloging the dialogue between them and IDG Books. In the same vein, check out our first story about this as well.
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More Fun With "For Dummies" Trademarks

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    "I don't see what problem having everyone think of your brand for something as generic as vaccum cleaners, or for that matter books"

    The problem is (as I understand it) that under US law you have to make an active effort to defend your trademark, otherwise you lose it. Believe it or not, although you and I might not buy them, a *huge* amount of money stands to be made from illegitimate "for dummies" books; and if IDG doesn't actively send out cease and desist letters to web sites, then they will lose in any suit against the producer of a crappy second-rate ripoff "for dummies" book. And once they have lost that, a plethora of crappy second-rate "for dummies" books takes over, and they lose everything. If you had spent half your life building your company on a series of "for dummies" books you would be doing exactly what IDG is doing now.

    I'm with IDG on this one (who are, it seems, even being polite and patient). Linus explained to everyone on /. a few months back why he had to actively defend his trademark of "Linux", but it seems like everyone has forgotten about that already, how convenient. "Four legs good ..."

    "The Idiotic Guide to Screenprinting 4 DummieZ" doesn't look like a parody to me either. Non-profit, yes. But I don't see how changing the title slightly is going to hurt them.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    sure, but surely changing the s to a Z is still sort of infringement?? I mean, it still *says* the same thing. I reckon IDG could get away with taking this down too, under your reasoning.

    The site isnt a parody, but I dont see it being in competition with the long line of books either. Nor for that matter the Irish Folk Dancing site. And it doesn't even copy the design, colors or typeface, so fat chance of being mistaken.

    Aside from the fact that the 'for dummies' books are crappy in themselves, if the only basis for their advantage is the two words and not even the design of the cover or the content inside, then they deserve to be overwhelmed for not coming up with a decent source of competetive advantage.

    If you read through all the posts in this thread, I think you'll find most of these issues have been played out already. But I think the reason everyone is so annoyed is the fact that we don't see how little sites like this are going to hurt IDG, either.

    Another poster put it well when he said the issue is probably to do with search engine queries on 'for dummies', in which case they should have a better internet strategy for their books - making their product superior rather than defending their product like this.

    Also, with the Linux issue, or in fact Xerox or Kleenex, these are 'brand names' because they uniquely differentiate a product, and as far as i am aware were never in the dictionary before the products were released. Refer to the bob/mcdonalds post, and the post about 'Car repair for Dummies' coming out first.
  • Pmail = Pegasus mail.

    Two problems with this:

    • The first is that prior art exists. Since pmail has been in existance since the 1980s, the only infringer is Pegasus Mail, by attempting to usurp the pmail name. As such, a simple letter request should be legally sufficient to force them to disgorge the domain, as an infringement.
    • Second, creation of the domain "pmail" for "pegasus mail" does not, in and of itself create a correspondance between "pegasus mail" and "pmail".

    The one problem that I see is that, by (a) not TMing pmail, and (b) by not notifying pegasus mail of their infringment, the name pmail is effectively diluted as far as email programs go. That being said, _the dilution applies both ways_. Pegasus Mail _cannot_ claim to own the trademark, since it was diluted by their own actions.

  • Trademarks have to be policed; which is why IDG's actions are just as necessary, in legal terms, as the ones that Linus Torvalds took against unscrupulous types who grabbed *linux* domain names a few years ago. Yes, it's ridiculous, but it's a reflection of the law as it stands...

    There was a particularly silly case not so long ago, when McDonald's launched a trademark case in Scotland against a restaurant run by (you guessed it) someone called McDonald. The press had a field day, of course.
  • I was beginning to think "for really dumb people" would be better anyways. I've never bought a "dummies" book but from what I've seen they been embarassing elementry.

  • I did check existing names. Pegasus Mail and
    pmail are not the same name, and only an idiot
    could confuse them.
  • Hey, nice little explanation of cache.
  • Heh. I can beat that.

    Deanna Sclar,
    Auto Repair for Dummies,
    Revised McGraw-Hill Paperback edition, 1983
    New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company
    ISBN: 0070558752 (pbk.)

    In teeny type on the copyright page,

    "Title by permission of Philip R. Martin, author of 'Auto Mechanics for the Complete Dummy,' © 1974"

    from the back seat of my car

    And a damned sight better than IDG's FOR DUMMIES(R) books too. Doesn't tell you how to rebuild the carburetor, but gets people who are initially nervous about tinkering to the point where they could do a tuneup or a brake job. Compare and contrast IDG's books, if you have ever read one.

  • LOL.

    Oops, my ass-umptions are showing.

    I meant for a company that is not Red Hat releasing a Red Hat BSD. Red Hat = trademark.

    Poor example, sorry to confuse y'all.

  • "Just because people weren't using... as a joke/buzzword ... doesn't mean..."

    Er, yes it does. Quite clearly, it does, otherwise they couldn't possibly have obtained a trademark for it.

    The law does allow the use of these trademarks in reporting, so I'm afraid you're more or less out of luck this time around. However, if I were to ever use your phrase for whatever usage you've obtained trademark status for it (books, consumer products, manufacturing process, etc), then you'd have a leg to stand on.

  • We should all make personal pages with "for Dummies" titles, like My Vacation Pictures for Dummies. Then send an e-mail (courteous, of course) to Isabelle Drewelow at [mailto] letting her know of about the site.

    In a day or two, we can catalog their response to the /. effect as they attempt to quash all our pages!

  • How about 'Slashdot: Novel data for users of electronic calculating machines. Information that matters'?

    I was gonna mention Novell [], but there's the pesky extra "L". I wouldn't be surprised, though, if "Data" were trademarked by Paramount. :)
  • Would "... for IDGers" pass muster? "IDG" is a trademark (see, then poke around in the trademarks database), but does that trademark cover "IDGers"?

    To be sure, it would piss them off, but would it be actionable?
  • Hmmm, well here's a fact. When IDG decided to roll out a Slackware for Dummies book, they didn't get any permission to use the Slackware (registered) trademark like that. I wonder how many other cases there are where they've combined someone else's trademark with "for Dummies" and had no written permission to do so?

    Maybe if we all banded together...

  • A weaker case? Hmmm. Two email packages, one developed in the 1980s and still going strong, and one that obviously failed to check existing names.

    I'm afraid I have to disagree there. There's absolutely no difference between IDG and Pegasus here.

  • In addition, "For Dummies" is a collection (however small) of words, not just one word. I think you'll find that MS has trademarked "Where do you want to go today?", and that Sun has trademarked something along the lines of being "the dot in dot com".

    OTOH, I don't think that MS managed to get Windows trademarked, just each of Windows 95, Windows 98, etc, although I could be wrong on that one.


  • ...and I've lost cout of the number of "Perfect Fried Chicken", "Tennessee Fried Chicken", "Texas Fried Chicken" and "Favorite Fried Chicken"s (etc etc etc ad nauseum) there are here in London (UK).

    OTOH, if you brought out a range of introductory level books, and called them " for Almost Dumbies", it'd probably all be down to the court on the day when you were sued - I guess KFC either don't care, found/feel that they don't have a case, or just plain lost.


  • Good plan! Now what do we do with the old people?
  • While not disputing your point about the law forcing IDG to act in this way don't you find it interesting that they refer in their emails to their registered trademark as "FOR DUMMIES" and "For Dummies" while asking the sites to desist from having titles like "XXX for Dummies".
  • I wonder how many times this has happened in the past, but people (like me) have just "caved" under the corporate pressure. For instance, a site I did as an undergrad called "Cache for Blockheads" (formerly "Cache for Dummies" ( rojects/cache/ []) was also threatened by IDG(TM). I wanted to change the name to "Cache for IDG(TM) Lawyers" but was outvoted. We were also considering countersuing, because we figured that the content of our site was so much better than IDG's books, that they should be paying us. ;) But, in all seriousness, it was pretty frustrating. Anyone else out there get "threatened" by IDG but kept quiet until now?
  • It could be more serious than that. Haven't Iomega got 'Stuff' trademarked?

    How about 'Slashdot: Novel data for users of electronic calculating machines. Information that matters'?
  • What part of TRADEmark don't you understand? Non-commercial use, including everyday conversation and parody, is not TRADING.

    Check out the law [].

    (4) The following shall not be actionable under this section:
    (A) Fair use of a famous mark by another person in comparative commercial advertising or promotion to identify the competing goods or services of the owner of the famous mark.
    (B)Noncommercial use of a mark.
    (C)All forms of news reporting and newscommentary.

  • I don't see what problem having everyone think of your brand for something as generic as vaccum cleaners, or for that matter books.

    If that happens in the US, then it becomes a 'word', and you no longer have a trademark. Anyone can call there tissues "Kleenex" beacuse Kleenex didn't defend there trademark, It was happening with Xerox as well. People wern't photocopying, they were Xeroxing, and if Xerox didn't do anything to stop it, it would have ment everyone could have started making Xerox machines. if IDG dosn't stop whats going on, they will have no basis to stop people from calling other books 'for dummies'. Its a perfictly valid use of trademark.

    But treating customers with contempt,

    I have reviewed the site and found it very interesting and amusing. Unfortunately, it utilizes the phrase "for Dummies" which is confusingly similar to the well-known trademark owned by IDG Books ....I assume that you did not intend to infringe and dilute the "For Dummies®" mark and meant well. However, I must ask you to remove the trademarked material from your web site on or November 11th, 1999.

    Again we appreciate your ideas, but we must protect our trademarks.

    Does that sound like contempt to you? It dosn't to me.
  • What part of TRADEmark don't you understand? Non-commercial use, including everyday conversation and parody, is not TRADING.

    Well, it was nether normal conversation or a parody site that IDG was complaing about, but rather an informational site about screen printing.
  • Any reasonable person would want to be protected I think. If you want to buy a Sony TV, it doesn't mean that you want a television with the word "Sony" tacked on, it means you want a TV from a particular Japanese company. Of course, with anything there can be abuses. That doesn't' mean it' bad thing. Also, it isn't just to protect Consumers, but Large and small companies as well. Suppose you were a small company and came out with a new product, let say a program. What's to stop M$ from simply recoding your product and selling it with the same name? Trademark law.

    The world would be a very confusing and annoying world without Trademark law.

    It is completely doable today, using OCR and Digital Signatures, to create a product that scans webpages and images for trademarks and checks meta-data for the trademark owners signature.

    That's great for the internet, but what about the real world? Or should people have to carry around Palm(TM) pilots(TM) wherever they go to read these things?

    I say screw them.

    Good for you. Because really, your opinion matters a huge amount.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    IDG more or less invented the "for Dummies" phrase. It certainly wasn't in popular use before about 1991, when IDG started publishing the "for Dummies" series.

    As someone who was writing books back then, I'd like to clear up a BIG misconception in this post. When IDG launched the "for Dummies" book series, it was because they were the first to actually take the final step to do so. When the first "for Dummies" book came out, that book concept (and variations of that specific title, btw) had been proposed to various publishers by somewhere over 100 different authors. IDG did NOT invent the phrase, or even the book concept. All they did was accept some book author's proposal, which took off like a rocket (they were NOT expecting it to do so well - the success of the series was a complete surprise to IDG). That they followed up, and marketed the hell out of the book concept is good execution. But to give them credit for "inventing" the whole "for Dummies" thing? Gimme a break.

  • Nice job of dodging the point, Mr. IDG Lawyer. The description of how to do screenprinting is non-commercial because there is no exchange of goods, services, or cash. You definitely stretch the point when you say that it somehow "competes" with the "for Dummies" series. You can't "compete" if no goods, services, or cash is being exchanged (look up the definition of "commercial", please).

    Of course, we're talking about Australia here, which has totally different trademark laws, so it's rather irrelevant. Still, I'm tempted to put up an "IDG lawyer baiting for dummies" page on my web site with true-life examples of how to bait IDG lawyers into acting like idiots :-).


  • As I recall, Apple did have to pay a sum of money to McIntosh (the makers of the high end stereo equipment) due to the fact that McIntosh has a trademark on the name "McIntosh" as a name for home electronics equipment....

    But if I want to put up a non-commercial site called "Macintosh Follies" or "Baiting IDG Lawyers for Dummies", that's protected use under the trademark law, because I am not using it in commerce -- i.e., there are no goods, services, or moneys changing hands.


  • Please note that commerce involves the exchange of goods and services. If it's free/freely available with no payment or exchange of goods or services involved, please tell me what definition of the word "commerce" you do not understand?

    As for free stuff on the Internet being competition against printed "how to" guides published by IDG, awe, poor baby! Unfortunately, "competition" != "commercial". Without an exchange of goods, services, or money, there is no sale insofar as contract law is concerned, and if there is no sale, there is no commerce. A gift does *NOT* qualify as commerce, BTW, because it is one way (no exchange).


  • Granted, a non-profit corporation is engaged in corporation. Granted, free how-to guides on the Internet are directly in competition with IDG books. But: a gift is *NOT* commerce.

    I suggest you quit trying to snow people with your shady two-stepping. If there is no exchange of goods, services, or money, there is no commerce. A gift (giving away something for free, with no good or service received in exchange) is *NOT* commerce.

    This isn't rocket science. This is Business Law 101. That's why the relative renting my land in Louisiana pays me $1 per year for the privilige... otherwise, there would not be a valid contractual transaction, no commerce, and various nasty legal consequences that I won't go into here (issues of liability for his actions, basically).


  • The Aussie site, with the fantastic parody book cover, is parodying *after the fact*. Their original web page wasn't at all a parody.

    Correct. It was not protected as a parody, it was protected by virtue of being non-commercial. Now it's protected by being non-commercial AND a parody.

  • It may have been intended to be non-commercial, but it still failed under 4.A: the Internet certainly can be considered to be comparitively promotional, and offering advice in a humourous manner does compete with the "for Dummies" series.

    4.A does not protect that use, but they don't have to meet a, b, AND c, just a, b, OR c. Thus, the attack was unnecessary, and had it gone to court, they could have won ONLY by default when the defendant could not afford justice in court. That's why I have a problem with it.

  • And the real problem is that Stallman can't now call for boycott of "for Dummies" books, because no person worth calling to would read, let alone buy, book with such a title anyway.

    And anyway, there's a new trend of "Complete Idiot's guide to...". The next ones should be "Hydrocephal's Encyclopedy", "Dumbass Guide" and "Imbecile MSCE preparation course"... I love such a desire for truth from those people, even if they let it go only in a bookstore.
  • I have to say that the letters suggest that IDG deserves the greater sympathy and understanding, in this case.

    Personally, I'm glad Jon Katz didn't get involved in the letter-writing. Not only would it contravene the Geneva Convention, the web-site would have become a deadly weapon, capable of mass destruction of brain tissue.

    I =DO= agree that simple, gramatically-correct phrases made from words in an existing dictionary and used in a syntactically and semantically meaningful way should NOT be trademarkable. There is FAR too great a risk of accidental "guilt" and control over free speech. (The 1st Ammendment doesn't protect you, as it's only concern is with Government control, not corporate.)

    IMHO, it's cases like this that convince me that trademarks would be better =AS= marks or symbols, not words or phrases. Under those conditions, the brand would be uniquely identifiable, but there wouldn't be all this confusion.

  • I recently wrote a book for IDG, the Linux Programmer's Bible []. Below is a letter I sent to IDG expressing my dissatisfaction with their handling of this issue. This has also been posted to my site at 31761/index_html [].

    From: John Goerzen <>
    Subject: IDG's relationship to me and others
    Date: 07 May 2000 15:24:29 -0500

    [ An open letter. Anyone has permission to redistribute this letter, verbatim, for no fee. ]

    Dear Isabelle:

    I am an author that has just completed my first book with IDG, the Linux Programming Bible. I had been very pleased with the way IDG handled the book, process, and legal matters -- until now.

    It came to my attention today that you personally, and IDG in general, are sending threatening letters to many members of the Free Software community (of which I am a part) that happen to use the phrase "for dummies" in casual conversation, e-mail, or the title of a webpage.

    I must vehemently object to this harassment of my colleagues. These things pose zero risk and no possibility of confusion with your series. If they were printed and sold in bookstores with a yellow cover, I'd easily support your claim.

    I feel that this attempt at censoring people that are just trying to do good in the world is despicable and feel that I will have to re-evaluate my future plans to write additional titles with a company that actively is trying to crush members of the Linux community unfortunate enough to use a common English phrase in the course of their daily communications or online documentation.

    The specific cases to which I refer include the "Real Beginner's Guide to CVS" guide, which happened to mention farther down that it is "affectionately known as 'CVS for dummies'". I additionally noticed a post on the Slashdot.Org online forum today where you are apparently going after a non-profit group in Australia for using the phrase on a website.

    I am left to wonder if I myself may be the target of your pressures by unwittingly using a phrase such as "for dummies" on my own website, in my own e-mail communications, or even on the phone.

    I would ask at this time that you ceasee this unwarranted harassment of the good people on the Internet and instead focus on the people that are actually trying to harm you, if any.

    I additionally consider it only proper to inform you that I have created a webpage containing the words "for dummies" at


    John Goerzen


  • "For Dummies" is a stupid series of books with a stupid title, IMO, but obviously successful for IDG. You can't tell me that people that made up a site or whatever entired "blah blah for Dummies" weren't inspired to do so by IDG's books.

    Sure I can. When I was an undergrad in the late '80s (before IDG) we used to refer to the courses given by department X for non-majors as X for dummies. (Statistics for Dummies, Physics for Dummies, etc.) You can't tell me that IDG wasn't inspired to call their books "for dummies" by exactly this usage.
  • Jesus, what part of "the law says they *MUST* do this" don't you understand?

    It's not a choice. If IDG does not enforce their trademark, they *completely lose* their trademark.

    At which point even a knob like you would be able to publish a bright yellow book with garish black graphics titled "How to Masturbate Yourself to Success for Dummies," thus causing confusion in the marketplace.

    And if you actually took a minute, you'd discover that the legal department of IDG was bloody polite and patient.

    The problem is not with IDG. It is with the law: it is stupidly written and forces companies to take action that they would, in all likelyhood, prefer to turn a blind eye to.

    The only point you make that is at all legitimate is that it *is* appalling that a series that insults its readers can be so successful. That, however, would be more a failing of "How to Keep Your Self Respect for Complete Fucking Halfwits" consumer public.

  • IDG owns copyright of the "For Dummies" phrase for use on 'Books and Printed Matters.'

    IANAL, but I rather suspect that the court interpretation of this is that you can not use that phrase as part of a title; and that there's a good chance that you can't use it in body text in a way that suggests that it is the title of a work.

    I'm quite sure you can use it in speech, in parody, and in off-hand comments like "ILOVEYOU is a virus for dummies!"

    IDG just has to make sure that it isn't used in a way that implies that the phrase is part of the title of a published work. Otherwise, they can't control the use of the phrase in the use of titles. Which, in turn, means anyone can create a "for Dummies" series in competition with them.

  • I suggest YOU READ POSTS before you post.

    The phrase "for Dummies" was not in common usage before 1991, when IDG started using it in the title of their books.

    It is in common usage *because* IDG uses it, not in spite of them.

    If you were to read some of the higher-ranked previous postings for this article, you will, in fact, discover that this point has been made previously.

    I apologise for saying that you masturbate.

  • Non-profits are *not* explicitly excluded. Just because Mountain Equipment Co-op, a co-operative outdoor equipment supplier, is non-profit, does *NOT* mean that they can name their house-brand boots "Scarpa", their semi-permeable raingear system "Gore-Tex" nor their low-impact handbook "Hiking for Dummies".

    And nor does "not making money from it" necessarily count. Though the original web page was not for-profit, it was distinctly in competition with IDG Books, in that it was a published "how to" guide.

    Once again, IDG's legal council is absolutely correct in understanding that they must insist that their trademark not be used as a title for a publication, lest they lose control of their trademark.

  • It was used in one or two book titles. It was not in common usage. The phrase "it makes your mouth smile" is certainly a phrase that has seen occasional use -- but that does not prevent Nabisco from trademarking it for some cracker product or other.

    So, fact: IDG owns the trademark.

    Fact: They must insist that it not be used in a manner that dilutes their trademark.

    Fact: They can and will keep a trademark on it, because they did think to trademark it before you or I did.

    Period. It's theirs, all the way. If there is a problem, it is with the law, not with IDG, who has been nothing but polite and patient in their letters to web page owners.

  • I wish I could move some of my +5 marks to the above posting: it's the first I've seen that has a comprehensive counter-argument that has some grounding in reality.

    If anyone has a moderator point or two left, *PLEASE* mark CBM's post up! It's needed to counterbalance my own posts!

  • Touche'.

    However, IDG's beef isn't with things like the fantastic spoof that Aussie site did with a fake book cover.

    It was with another work, which certainly doesn't seem to be a parody. It's a more-or-less accurate description of how to do screenprinting. It is mildly amusing, but it certainly isn't a parody.

    It may have been intended to be non-commercial, but it still failed under 4.A: the Internet certainly can be considered to be comparitively promotional, and offering advice in a humourous manner does compete with the "for Dummies" series.

    Again, IDG gains bugger all in harassing people. But they *must* do it, because the law demands it.

    The *law* is the ass, not IDG!

  • Ah, but you're not off the hook that easily. I'm enjoying mental masturbation this morning, and you're my willing co-stroker!

    1) Yes, it was a published work. It was published on the Internet.

    Note that IDG is not protesting the parody book cover that leads into the site. They are protesting a how-to guide titled "How to Screenprint for Dummies." IDG's "for Dummies" books are how-to guides, and so this Internet-published work directly competes with their product line.

    2) IDG owns the use of the "for Dummies" phrase for use as a title. I don't think there's anything they could do about someone releasing scalpels and bonesaws under a "Brain Surgery for Dummies Home Trepanning Kit" brand name. Though I could be completely wrong about that. Point is, they certainly do have to be concerned about the use of their phrase as a title for publications -- and web pages are a publication.

    3) Pick up a writers magazine. You'll find you're dead wrong: all companies are zealously protecting their trademarks/brand names, because if they don't, they lose them.

    The problem isn't with IDG. It's with the law. IDG's hands are pretty much tied: they gotta do what they gotta do.

  • See comment in other half of the thread for the original posting.

    Basically, publication of "how to" guides on the Internet is competition against printed "how to" guides published by IDG. Hence, it's wrong to title your "how to" guide using IDG's trademark.

    Just as it is illegal to create a new, free operating system and name it... oh, say, Linux or Windows. Just because it's free/freely available doesn't mean it's non-commercial and free of trademark restrictions.

  • I believe the satire laws do apply.

    The Aussie site, with the fantastic parody book cover, is parodying *after the fact*. Their original web page wasn't at all a parody.

  • Jon 'maddog' Hall, author of "Linux For Dummies," speak and explain your PoV. How can you, as an advocate of Free Software and therefore Free Speech, lend your name to a company that does this to people?
    Andrew G. Feinberg
  • The phrase "for Dummies" was not in common usage before 1991, when IDG started using it in the title of their books.

    It is in common usage *because* IDG uses it, not in spite of them.

    It was used in book titles before IDG used it.

    Since you seemed to be missing all the posts of examples, I thought a direct reply might be in order.

    You can't keep a trademark on something just because you thought of trademarking it first. Other people were using that phrase *IN BOOK TITLES* before IDG ever thought about using it.

    Period. That's not an opinion, it's a fact.

  • Actually, I don't think KFC would have a case, as their name is NOT Kentucky Fried Chicken. AFAIK (IANAL (Yet)) the courts decided that you could not make an acronym a trademark, so if the letters stand for anything, they are not protected. Hence there was alot of name changing going on for awhile, i.e.

    Kentucky Friend Chicken changed its name to KFC
    International Business Machines changed to IBM
    Silicon Graphics Inc. changed to SGI Inc.
    Public Broadcasting Service Inc. changed to PBS Inc.

    I don't know whether the newly named companies are able to register the OLD names as trademarks, but that's why you never see the long names around anymore.

  • Hard as it may be to believe, the American Bill of Rights doesn't apply to the rest of the world. This incident took place in Australia. I suspect that they have a similar exemption for parody, but it's {arrog|ignor}ant to assume that your 1st Ammendment applies in other countries.


  • Using a common English phrase for a trademark is simply stupid in the age of the Internet: people will use it in their writing, and search engines will give lots of bad hits. So, just use the phrase "for dummies" frequently in your web pages and IDG will perhaps see the error of their ways, as in
    Performing cosmetic surgery on yourself at home is not something for dummies (or maybe it is).

    Also, the value of "X for Dummies" is that it identifies books that require no prior knowledge and little effort to get a job done. Well, there are lots of books like that, many of them much better than "X for Dummies". So, let people know about good alternatives and recommend them on your web pages. As in

    I read 'Home Cosmetic Surgery for Dummies (R)' by R. Hacker from IDG, but I thought it didn't do the subject much justice. Instead, get a copy of 'Practical Cosmetic Surgery at Home' by A. Cutswell. Not only is it written by someone who has actually performed some, it also has color illustrations.
    That's both a very useful and a perfectly legal use of a trademark. Of course, if the "for Dummies" book is actually the best, give it credit.
  • It's only trademark infringement when it identifies a product. Otherwise, anybody can title whatever they want to "X for Dummies".

    Since a web discussion forum doesn't usually constitute a product, it isn't covered and IDG doesn't have a leg to stand on (other than by intimidation).

    Furthermore, it's questionable whether companies ought to be able to protect parts of trademarks or whether there is any basis for that in trademark law. They don't have trademark on "SMART_HOSTS for Dummies", so it is questionable whether they can claim that trademark at all, even if this were a trademark issue.

  • Noncommercial use doesn't "infringe", so IDG is under no obligation to "police" the use of that phrase. And trademark protection for common English phrases (like "for dummies" is) is limited anyway.
  • I'm as big a fan of satire as anyone, but in IDG's defense, one of the great satirists of all time, Ambrose Bierce, was badly bitten by a failure to protect his 'title theme'

    Bierce's 'Devils Dictionary' (modern title) mocks society so trenchantly that it's hard to believe parts of it were published as early as 1881

    His newspaper made him use the more reverent "Cynic's Word Book" as a title for his column and his wit became so famous and popular that by the time his book came out, the world had been flooded with The Cynic's This, The Cynic's That, and The Cynic's T'other. His book, swamped out by its own imitators, sold poorly.

    It's public domain now (available at e-text sites -- alas, many also distribute stripped down demo versions of modern commercial e-packagings. Make sure you get the complete original []). Though some of his quips suffer from over a century of unattributed borrowing, there are still gems on every page. It would have been a best seller, if people could find it among all the dross.

    "... for Dummies" may not deserve the same accolades, but if IDG chooses to use this amusing (well, it was amusing in 1991) demarcation for its series, it's just as valid as SAMS, PhotoFacts or Chilton's. Half the reason people want to call themselves '... for dummies' is to steal a bit of (now tired) wit -- which pretty much tells you what to expect from the rest of their 'parody' or 'instructions'. The fact is, most '...for Dummies' like most "Cynic's Whatnot", are just capitalizing on the popularity of someone else's concept.

    That's not to say that some of the parodies aren't quite good -- but it wouldn't be hard to change the title a bit, for *greater* parody effect. Stealing the trademarked element of the title is neither essential, nor particularly clever.
  • Okay, I can understand all the stuff about owning trademarks, but sheesh... gimme a break! I must have missed the original story, or else I plum forgot about it. As sad as it is for the folks getting the letters, it is funny.

    I got such a letter a few years back when I was having a fight with Jones Intercable. They did not fix my cable to my satisfaction, then they never showed up when they were supposed to, so I set up the Jones Intercable Sucks website. I took their logo and modified it. It was pretty funny looking actually - if you never saw their logo it was kind of a movie marqee looking thing with a satellite dish.

    Well, I made the satellite dish look like something you would find at the worst of junk yards, and I really messed the movie sign looking part up. It was quite a piece of work actually. I was proud.

    Well, the site was up for like two weeks when I got this email from them demanding I take the image off there. I guess they did not appreciate my joke - but it was their own fault as far as I was concerned. They started it when they were giving crappy service. The image was truely a work of parody - nothing more, which I explained to them. They did not seem to understand.

    Well, to show them some good will I did take the logo down, but I kept it just in case. They had the cable fixed a few days later. I dropped the cable completely six months later and went to Dish Network.

    I am still proud of my "trademark infringement" because it sure as hell got their attention - especially when it showed up as one of the first ten documents when you did a search for Jones Intercable on almost all of the search engines. I think it was usually right below "Investor Relations" or something.

    Some folks just have no sense of humor...

  • But only if a violation is occurring! And PARODY and SATIRE are NOT violations, and their lawyers should damn well know this! Therefore, there is nothing requiring defending.
  • Trademarks have nothing to do with what you can say only what you can title things. I can't start making TVs and calling them "Sonys", I can't stat a company called "Sun" with and OS called "Solaris". I can't make a website called "Slashdot." Why should I be able to?

    There is no restrictions on thought inherent in this, you are still allowed to think, and speak, publish documents with the words in it, you just can use the words in naming your own products.

  • Dude, I could not write a bunch of crap code in an OS and call it 'solaris', or take mySQL and sell it as IBM DB/2, that would be stupid. Why should people be able to title there websites "whatever for dummies"? Its a perfictly valid trademark, and it dosn't stop you from using the word, just nameing stuff after it.
  • Perhaps if you'd read the article before spouting of you would know that they are not attacking a parody site, they politely asked a site called "Screen printing for dummies" to change its name.

    Really, What the hell is so hard about doing like, 3 minutes of research before making completely uninformed posts about something? I'm surprised your post hasn't been modded up as 'insightful' yet. It is so fucking annoying to see post, after uninformed post spouting completely useless, wrong garbage. Why is it so hard for you people to even bother to learn what's actually occurring? Its as simple as following a link!
  • This is a prime example (along with things like etoy, and the suing of clan MacDonald), of why trademark law is just as rotten as its "Intellectual property" cousins patent law and copyright law. The simple fact is that, regardless of their intentions, the final result of ALL of these things is censorship.

    People claim that Trademark law is around to protect customers from falsely branded products, which sounds noble enough, until you consider that nobody ever bothered to ask the individual consumer whether he wanted to be protected or not. Somebody just decided that the poor stupid consumer needed this protection, and so it should be forced on everyone.

    In my case, I don't want to be protected against confusing other books with IDG's "For Dummies" series, just like I don't want to be protected from confusing art collectives with toy stores or family trees with hamburgers. But society has decided that I should be just the same.

    It is completely doable today, using OCR and Digital Signatures, to create a product that scans webpages and images for trademarks and checks meta-data for the trademark owners signature. No law would be necessary, and the user could himself decide what level of protection he wanted from confusion (none, a small warning text, full suppression) and which trademarks he cared about being protected from otherpeople using. But how many people here think that if such a product came out tomorrow, the companies that today tell you that Trademark law is "for your protection [naive little inferior person]" would be OK with abandoning it on the web?

    Not one, because like patents and copyrights, trademarks are no longer about protecting comsumers or society. They are about protecting the interests and power of the capitocratic society, and keeping the individuals as the dumb consuming machines the corporations need us to be.

    I say screw them.

    We cannot reason ourselves out of our basic irrationality. All we can do is learn the art of being irrational in a reasonable way.
  • [reprint from the site]

    To: "''"
    Subject: Cthulu for Dummies
    Date: Mon, 18 May 1998 13:47:45 -0500

    Dear Sir or Madam:

    I am writing to you about a matter of great importance to our company, namely, the protection of our intellectual property. We would
    appreciate it if you would review this letter and respond by June 1, 1998.

    As you may know, IDG Books Worldwide ("IDGB") publishes and distributes globally a line of reference books known as the "...For Dummies(R)"
    series. The "...For Dummies(R)" series has been in existence since November 1991 and has enjoyed unprecedented success. In fact, there are
    over 50 million "...For Dummies(R)" books in print and the books have been translated into 38 languages. The "...For Dummies(R)" series
    includes, among many other titles, Windows(R) For Dummies(R), The Internet For Dummies(R), Politics For Dummies(R), Personal Finance For Dummies(R), and Fitness For Dummies(R). IDGB also licenses and distributes numerous line extensions and ancillary products based on the "...For Dummies(R)" series, including musical CDs, clothing, toys, and calendars.

    The "...For Dummies(R)" series is immediately recognizable by, among other things, the trademark "...For Dummies(R)." The "...For
    Dummies(R)" trademark appears not only on the books themselves but also on trade and consumer advertising, in catalogs, on point of sale
    displays, on giveaway items, on IDGB's Web site, and on other promotional material distributed around the world. IDGB has made a considerable investment in promoting the identification of its "...For Dummies(R)" trademark to its distributors and customers. As a result,
    and as evidenced by the many articles written and comments received from distributors, customers, and the press, it is clear that IDGB's "...For
    Dummies(R)" trademark is widely identified with IDGB. In short, this trademark is an extremely valuable asset of IDGB.

    It has come to our attention that you have published an article on the Web site (specifically, entitled "Cthulu for Dummies." Unfortunately, this title uses and infringes IDGB's federally
    registered "...For Dummies(R)" trademark. In addition, it is highly likely that visitors could be misled into believing that this article
    was authorized by or is associated with IDGB.

    We hope that this matter can be resolved quickly and amicably. Accordingly, we request that you remove the infringing material from the
    Web page and anywhere else it appears and provide IDGB with your written assurances that you will refrain from infringing its trademarks. Please
    be advised that if this matter cannot be immediately resolved, IDGB is fully prepared to enforce its rights. We look forward to hearing from you on or before June 1, 1998.


    Terri Morgan
    Manager, Legal Services
    IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.
    919 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Suite 400
    Foster City, CA 94404
    650/655-3040 - V
    650/655-3299 - F

    Now, mind you, this was a humor site that is now known as Cthulu for Morons ... how anyone could have taken this as being sanctioned by IDG is completely beyond me. Sheesh.
  • What? You mean ABC hasn't copyrighted the words "Who wants to"? I bet it won't be long, then.
    No more e-mail address game - see my user info. Time for revenge.
  • bah. s/copyright/trademark/g
    No more e-mail address game - see my user info. Time for revenge.
  • Because "Solaris" and "DB/2" are trademarks, whereas "_____ for Dummies" is not, because you can't trademark that. See comment #143.
    No more e-mail address game - see my user info. Time for revenge.
  • Oh come on, do a little homework before you're off kissing corporate ass. Not only is for' dummies' common english words and not original creations they've been used a million times in print and belong to a title of a book from the 70's.

    Second, satire, parody, and reference allow the use of trademarks/copyrights with both commercial and non-commercial uses.

    This gets even worse when non-profit or personal web pages use the term and IDG, and other corporate bullies, get to show off their legal muscle.

    I don't buy 'we're protecting our TMs' line, when most uses fall under fair use. The issue is about making sure customers get to the proper IDG website when they type the words 'For Dummies' into any search engine and not some site that might give them free information of *gasp* criticize their product or politics.

  • Every outlet that sells IDG's for dummies books has another set of books with the same bright neon lettering/font about the exact same topics written for the exact same demographic except they're called 'The complete idiot's guide to...'

    I've always seen this as a ripoff of IDG that might confuse some consumers, but the lawsuit will never happen as the Idiot's guide people will point out 'for dummies' has had lots of prior use and marketing books to people who consider themselves clueless is nothing new. Because Idiot's guide has money for litigation they're left alone.

    IDG will pick on the non-corporate entities because they are completely defenseless. This has nothing to do with protecting trademarks, its about controling what comes out of a search engine after you type 'for dummies' into it and trying to build credibility with an obviously fake, stolen, and unoriginal trademark.

  • If I came out with a soap right now called 'Hi Bob' and sued everyone who used these words in an e-mail or placed it on a website, on the grounds that if people could get away with saying 'Hi Bob' all of the time any old fool could release 'Hi Bob' soaps at a lower price and destroy my investment, then would I still have your support?

    Perhaps this is indeed the fault of the law that if I was dumb enough to hinge my entire branding on a relatively common phrase, I would be obliged to harass people to keep my trademark - but that begs the issue, why should I be allowed to make that a trademark? Its not like Xerox, Linux or Kleenex - which were unique words unlikely to be said by anyone with coherent speech, and are 'brand names' because they are a UNIQUE differentiator.

    Other posts rightly point out that a number of educational books and car repair books with 'for dummies' came out first. They didn't seem so bothered about IDG doing it. Perhaps they have a decent product.

    Now, if my 'Hi Bob' soap had a picture of my Bob character on the packaging, and Hi Bob was written in a particular color/typeface combination, and someone came out with something roughly similar and tried to sell it, then I should go after them, no question - its a deliberate attempt to rip me off. Were the sites in question blatant attempts to rip IDG off? Hardly.

    So, I do not think that those two words are a valid basis for a trademark any more than 'Hi Bob' is a trademark. McDonalds sued a scotsman called McDonald for opening a shop here bearing his own name, and won. Who do you think came up with THAT name first? Does someone called McDonald have the right to open a shop bearing his name?

    If I remember, a man called Ronald McDonald had a go at McDonalds for infringing his personal 'brand' but he lost, probably because he does not have the same legal power in $$$

    I'm behind these guys all the way. As people, if we do not set a precadent defending ourselves, then companies will steadily trademark ever more catchy sayings, until the use of the English language becomes a legal minefield for both marketers and normal people alike.
  • The other day I saw "Sex for Dummies" and "Parenting for Dummies." I kid you not. Apparently even though there are laws against trademark infringement etc, there are none against irreparably harming the evolution of the species for corporate gain. I don't know about you, but the last demographic I want breeding are the people who buy "... for Dummies" books.

  • Pardon: Are you saying that "Pegasus Mail" was also named or commonly known by the term 'pmail'? If so, then yeah, they had a right to ask him to change the name.

    [ NH goes away to do some homework after the fact... so he can provide a definitive clear explanation of the circumstances of this obscure topic.. like someone should have done in the beginning instead of rambling on as though everyone in the planet knows the details about what is being talked about :) ]

    Ok, I've easily found Scott Bender's pmail, and it looks like he's being forced to change his package name as well. The pmail domain is owned by David Harris and his free Pegasus Mail, which he claims was first released in 1990. David's site doesn't refer to Pegasus Mail by the term pmail, other than pmail being in the name of the downloadable files, and other than having the domain name.

    However at some other scattered sites where Pegasus Mail is mentioned, the term pmail is used to refer to it.

    Hmmmmm. Looks like there is another commercial product called pmail, over here. [] Not a full e-mail client. But e-mail related.

    Here is another pmail package [], from, developed by a Dennis Ryan.

    Then there is Personal Mail ( [], which turns up in my search. (Goofballs, if I have javascript turned off I get a page of white text on a white background.)

    None the less, it is clear that the users of Pegasus Mail do refer to it by the name 'pmail'. This was not adequately clear in any of the other messages.

    Personally I can easily see how others could 'miss' pmail, aka Pegasus Mail, in a search for 'prior use'. I've never heard of it before, and I've been on the net since 1992. If I did a search for pmail and found what I found above, I would have presumed that pmail was a commonly used name without a firm claim on it. Especially since the official Pegasus Mail pages do not refer to itself as pmail. And 95% of the sites that refered to Pegasus Mail as pmail were in a foreign language, if I hadn't paid close attention to them, I might have missed the connection between Pegasus Mail and pmail all together.


  • I don't think so, but everybody knows that 'Nerds' are a sugar coated sugar candy, which naturally means we may get sued for using the word.

  • Unfortunately, I think it all comes down to whether or not the company enjoys the portrayal of their own tradmark and if they see a value in its artistic use. If the Catholic Church had enough foresight to have trademarked the cross, then they would have likely sued Andres Serrano for his
    Piss Christ [] piece. Since the Campbell's Soup company probably enjoyed their association with Andy Warhol, they were less likely to call their law school graduate dogs of war on the Factory.

    The painfully common thread running through so many SlashDot stories seems to be that he with the most lawyers wins, regardless of right and wrong. Metallica v. Napster, RIAA v., California v. OJ Simpson...

  • Some interesting points. Some very good ones, too.

    Some conterarguements, though. IDG has such a large market that they don't really have much concern with dilution. Furthermore, they've made a large point of going after non-profit groups, as well as mailing list administrators for off-the-cuff comments that submitters have made.

    IDG has, just as Ambrose Bierce should have had, the full right to prosecute groups that compete, or legitimately threaten to dilute their trademark. (if, for instance, the bookstores were filled with "for dummies" books not published by IDG) This doesn't, however, give them license to attack all occurrences of the words "for" and "dummies" used in conjunction.

    Also, while stealing the trademarked bits of the title is neither essential nor clever, it is sometimes an effective form of satire. (esp. things like "corporate standovers for dummies.")

  • Do you suppose that Deanna Sclar writing for IDG now is coincidence or part of a deal for IDG to get the name...

  • Dear Mr. FFFish,
    I am writing you to inform you that you are in violation of my companies (BigCo, Inc) trademark of the phrase "more or less." - As most know, the term "more or less" has, for over 10 years, been associated with BigCo. If you, an average slashdot poster, do not remove your post containing the terms described above, we will be forced to threaten to sic our lawyers on you...and, thusly, you will realize that we have a helluvalot more money than you - and so it's cheaper for you to bow to our will, rather than lose every cent you have paying your lawyers to fight for what is actually right (@ right, and all terms associated with right are a registered trademark of BigCo.)

    Dick McCheese
    BigCo, Inc.

    Ummmm - we're talking about a piece of the fucking language. Just because people weren't using the term "for dummies" as a joke/buzzword prior to 1991 doesn't mean that IDG can just grab a trademark on it...honestly...this is just ri-goddamn-diculous.

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • Trademarks that are diluted into generic terms go to the public domain.
  • ..much the same way as a geology course for non-geo majors is frequently known as:

    rocks for jocks


  • ...I think I'm doing to trademark the words: you are violating our trademark and threaten all the fscking lawyers that "dilute" my oh-so-valuable trademark..

    I think this is really a free speech issue. We're not talking about a competing product here, just Joe Shmoe using a trademarked phrase.

    The usual corporate butt-kissers will say "this isn't a free speech issue, the gov't isn't doing this". Bollocks. Neither I (nor octopod) has signed any contract with IDG...but if we use those "for dummies" words and persist, IDG will use the power of the courts to try and shut us up. Who gave IDG the right to do that?

    How is that different from Janet Reno hauling you into court for publishing stuff the gov't finds embarassing? Oh, I guess the person prosecuting the case is better paid, and it only takes a majority of jurors rather than all of them to screw you over

    Violating the 1st Amendment for Dummies
    "The government allows free speech. We've subcontracted the enforcement to the private sector, since they don't have these quaint restrictions."

  • I've got a whole new line of businesses to start...

    Burger Prince
    Jack in the Can
    Alabama Fried Chicken
    Cmdr Taco Bell
    Wendy's... (A WHORE!)
    Long Dong Silver's
    Dead Lobster
    Dairy Queer

  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @09:33AM (#1086689) Homepage Journal

    Which part of "law which requires the owner of a trademark to protect it against "erosion" and/or dilution" didn't you understand?

    I understand that completely. What part of:

    "The following shall not be actionable under this section:

    • (A) Fair use of a famous mark by another person in comparative commercial advertising or promotion...
    • (B) Noncommercial use of a mark.
    • (C) All forms of news reporting and news commentary." IDG's legal council not understand? I agree that they must dilligently pursue any infringing use, but non-profits are explicitly excluded as are parodies and reporting.

  • The morons at Pegasus Mail demanded that I rename
    my program "pmail" because they thought it was
    confusingly similar to their product name. They
    had an even weaker case, but unfortunately
    because I can't afford a lawyer, said evil people
    won. Grrr.
  • by FigWig ( 10981 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @11:11AM (#1086691) Homepage
    I wonder if the opinions of the /. readership would be different if a new company named O'rily published a booked called "Programming Perl" and it had a 2 humped camel on the cover.

    Phrases I'd like to trademark:
    We're the F in FU!
    X for Syphilitic Monkeys (ie Quantum Field Theory for Syphilitic Monkeys)
    Where would you like to go tonight?
    Your place or mine?
  • by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @09:24AM (#1086692)
    Right. But to imply that it is a 'blatant infringement' when satire and parody are CLEARLY NOT INFRINGEMENTS is almost bullying.
    They are required to defend their trademark WHEN IT IS BEING INFRINGED UPON. IT CLEARLY IS NOT.
  • by ryanr ( 30917 ) <> on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:55AM (#1086693) Homepage Journal
    They are required to protect their trademark, or lose it. If you check out the links at the bottom of the page, you'll run across some interesting, such as reference to a book that used "for dummies" before IDG did.

    Now, the trademark infringement doesn't seem to apply to non-commercial or parody sites. (Or Slashdot, since it's reporting about it.) However, IDG feels it neccessary to chase these people anyway. They're paying people to do this.

    So, what would happen to their costs if all the /. readers put up trademark bait for IDG?
  • by Trickster Coyote ( 34740 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @01:35PM (#1086694) Homepage
    Credit certainly must given to IDG's lawyers for their politeness. However just because they are polite doesn't mean that one should simply acquiesce. Particularly when the lawyers are wrong in their beliefs about the alleged infringement.

    Trademark law specifically excludes non-commercial use of trademarked words, as has been pointed out in other posts in this discussion. So while IDG's request was polite, it certainly was not reasonable. The website owners were clearly within their rights to refuse it.

    If you are walking down the street and someone comes up to you and politely requests that you hand over you wallet and all your vauables, should you comply? Or would you be justified in telling them to get lost?

  • by Money__ ( 87045 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:26AM (#1086695)
    . .would companies fight so hard to sell to so many dummies.
  • by shario ( 109443 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:58AM (#1086696)
    Which part of "law which requires the owner of a trademark to protect it against "erosion" and/or dilution" didn't you understand?

    Once a trademark holder is notified of infrigement, they must protect their trademark or the trademark can be lost. It's not really their choice. I just wonder why any laws protecting satire don't apply here?

  • by fluxrad ( 125130 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @09:55AM (#1086697) Homepage
    Please excuse the ambiguity of my previous post. I was wavering betwixt humor and a real post. But I would like to clarify a couple of things:

    1)I am not of the opinion that the "for dummies" trademark should have ever been granted in the first place. "...for dummies" is/was a relatively well used term prior to IDG's trademarking of it. As I said before, while not everyone was using the term, it was most certainly out there's a prior art argument.

    2) The real threat of IDG is not in the trademark. That is inconsequential, assume they do have a right to carry this trademark, and they don't have a legal right to infringe upon a non-profit (etc.) organization's ability to use such a term. That's all fine and good - but we're talking about the real world. As happens most often, Company A says to person B, "Take blah down!" Person B says, "Fuck off, I have the right to have blah up!" Company A says "Take it down or we'll sue you." Person B has to think VERY hard about whether or not they want to risk a small fortune to fight off Company A even though they know they're in the clear. It's the old - "do it or we'll bankrupt you in the process" routine.

    It's not right...but it's the way things work.

    After 16 years, MTV has finally completed its deevolution into the shiny things network
  • by spoonboy42 ( 146048 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:31AM (#1086698)
    More than 200 years ago it was decided that parodies are covered by freedom of the press. IDG's legal skylarkings are analogous to ABC suing NBC whenever SNL does a fake millionare episode.
  • by Lynnux ( 146226 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @09:09PM (#1086699) Homepage
    The last bookstore I owned had heavy O'Reilly traffic. (It's nice to sell something that you can believe in - 98 of my top 150 selling computer titles were O'Reilly). Anyway-- I took the O'Reilly spoof t-shirt design (Porn in a Nutshell) from, and made 100 copies to give to our regular customers. When the O'Reilly representative came round, I showed the shirt to her -- and she broke into hysterical laughter. So I gave her 5 of the t-shirts, and asked her to give one to Tim. I figured that if they had a problem, I'd hear about it. No calls, although a couple of her colleagues sent an email to thank me. Later that year, Tim O'Reilly himself dropped by during a party for Eric Raymond. The t-shirt was prominently displayed on the wall -- and not a complaint was heard. Draw your own conclusions.
  • by dowdy ( 170077 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @10:22AM (#1086700)

    Being a "victim" of an IDG cease and desist campaign, i would like to correct the notion that they only go after commercial, non-parody, "infringing" sites.

    I used to host a webpage called "Unified Field Theory for XXXXX" (XXXXX being something i'm restricting from saying, due to "trademark" law). This was hosted at an EDU (non-commercial) site.

    This was a CLEAR parody work using a modified version of an IDG book cover.

    When i responded to the C&D request (threat) (for which i was given THREE days notice to comply, which is NOT a polite request in my view), I indicated that i considered my work to be covered under the non-commercial and parody clauses. IDG's lawyer responded that there was no such thing, and again demanded that i comply (again with a 3-day allowance).

    When i yet again replied that this was clearly a parody work, i was told that since IDG's "...for dummies(tm)" series was itself a humorous entity, a "parody" claim could not be held.

    This is utter and complete bullshit, but i, as many common low-life, am not ready, willing or able to put up a legal fight. (thus the site came down)

    The whole point here is that IDG was trying to supress my clearly negative views about the entire "...for dummies(tm)" series. They can do so because they have a well-funded cadre of highly-paid legal bulldogs. It doesn't matter if they are in the right or not.

    remember the "Radio Shack" Tandy holds the trademark rights to the word "Shack" issue? It is a clearly valid criticism of the PTO that they are willing to allow trademark of common language terms. These TM's should NOT be allowed to stand.

    BTW, non-commercial alone isn't necessary. See the case of Penthouse magazine's parody "land's end" (iirc) catalog. It was in a commercial context, yet ruled non-infringing.

    P.S. this legal bullying is one of the reasons i believe that a substantial portion of punitive damage awards should go toward funding the "public defenders" office instead of just paying off greedy lawyers and plaintiffs. This would help balance out the little guy's ability to stand up to corporate bullying)

  • by Jonathan ( 5011 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @07:14AM (#1086701) Homepage
    I thought the whole reason why products have names like Coca-Cola or Kleenex is that by creating a nonsense word, the word isn't one in common use and so can only refer to the product in question. But "for dummies" hardly originated in 1991. In fact, if the phrase hadn't already been entrenched it would make no sense for IDG to use it in their titles. It's a pity that nobody has dared IDG to sue them.
  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @06:52AM (#1086702) Homepage
    IDG more or less invented the "for Dummies" phrase. It certainly wasn't in popular use before about 1991, when IDG started publishing the "for Dummies" series.

    It is their unique distinguishing product name. Their trademark. And in order to retain ownership of the name, they are legally *required* to send cease-and-desist letters to everyone who titles their works using the "for Dummies" phrase.

    Pick up one of those cheap wanna-be-an-author magazines down at the local bookstore. You'll find that three-quarters of the advertising is from companies protecting their trademark: Xerox telling writers to use the phrase "photocopy"; Kleenex telling writers to use the phrase "tissue"; and so on.

    It's no different than if someone were to start offering "Red Hat BSD", "SUSE Windows" or the "Slashdot Porn: Sluts for Nerds. Stuff that creams ya!"

    Anyway, it's stupid and irresponsible for Slashdot to be resurrecting this non-issue. IDG is doing what IDG *must* do, not what it wants to do. The law is written in a way that forces them into this position.

    And by all appearances, they are most polite and patient. Give them a freaking break.


  • It might be required by law, yet still be insane.

    How many combinations of two words in a common language can I trademark? How many would I require to gain control over (if not how it is used now) how the langauage will develop?

    Remember that language is used in forming exact thoughts. If you can not form certain new word combinations, you are restricted of forming an expression. This results in either finding a corresponding alternative expression or not finding a formula for the thought to be expressed as.

    Well, if you have read 1984 you know instantly what I'm talking about. It doesn't have to be that bad, but it might still be pretty ugly. Like the fact that ILUVYOU victims are dummies, and it is a Virus for Dummies, yet we may not call it such! So we might not learn of it.
  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @07:22AM (#1086704) Journal
    Interesting reading. Unlike other heavy-handed companies, IDG's first attempts to solve the matter were polite and reasonable. Even when they were asked for more questions and asked for additional time until their mid-December meeting, they were given it. Not until two months after that did a lawyer get involved and start threatening them.

    "For Dummies" is a stupid series of books with a stupid title, IMO, but obviously successful for IDG. You can't tell me that people that made up a site or whatever entired "blah blah for Dummies" weren't inspired to do so by IDG's books.

    English is a rich language. Certainly they could come up with something similar that wasn't infringing, like "Screenprinting for braindead titheaded fuckwits" and not have to worry about infringing on some trademark...

  • by di'jital ( 83268 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @07:13AM (#1086705)
    Looking over the actual website, it is just me, or is it also difficult for you too to contain sniggers at this whole thing?!

    Their pursuit of 'blatant infringement upon IDGB's internationally protected trademark "For Dummies®"' (Perhaps it was the ® at the end?), not to mention the fact that they forced changes to a site about Irish Step Dancing, or that they 'constantly track the web' for 'illegal' occurrences of 'for dummies' sounds like an amusing PR disaster waiting to happen for IDG.

    They give the example of hoover being a brand dilution. (In the US I hear a lot of people Vacuum instead of Hoover®). I don't see what problem having everyone think of your brand for something as generic as vaccum cleaners, or for that matter books. As long as it is easy to differentiate a genuine 'for dummies®' from a homage, then they should consider it voluntary brand building - especially from not for profit sites.

    If 'For Dummies®' is the first thing I think about when I want an easy technical reference, and I know that those yellow IDG® books are the the originals, then guess what i'm going to buy? Since they are apparently spending so much effort and money building this brand, the name should only be a part of the mix that customers associate with them. If the Irish step dancing site had a yellow background with a sign® etc then perhaps we are coming closer to confusion.

    It's not really about protecting us poor consumers from confusion, however - especially in this case, since you would have to view your customers with extreme contempt for their intellegence if they think everything contianing 'For Dummies' is part of their product line, or even a good substitute for what is in their product line.

    I agree that if someone came into the technical books market with a 'for profit' product, or even something that was on sale for any kind of money, and it copied the visual branding aspects as well as the name, then they should have some right to stop it, to protect market share.

    But treating customers with contempt, by implying their sheer stupidity, and by acting like a bully® in one of the principal forums where their brand equity matters, is both insensitive and stupid. The more people they harass about this on the internet, the faster the word is going to spread that these people are total arseholes.

    So, I suggest that all us Dummies® exercise our market power and intellegence and go and buy something different in future when we need to learn or teach someone about something. Spread the word.
  • by psaltes ( 9811 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @08:34AM (#1086706)
    Auto Repair for Dummies
    Hardcover 2nd edition (March 1990)
    Ten Speed Pr; [NOT by IDGB and published prior to their products] ISBN: 0070558841

    from mells/ []
  • by Doc Technical ( 16405 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @07:46AM (#1086707)
    A few links down in the featured article, the author references a link to "CVS for Dummies", a site that received a similar letter from IDG.

    Apparently, IDG only has a case against for-profit organizations. Here's a quote from the page []:

    The provisions of the 1995 Trademark Dilution act are, in a nutshell, that

    "The owner of a famous mark shall be entitled to injunctive relief against another person's commercial use of a mark or trade name if such use causes dilution of the distinctive quality of the mark."


    "... to be actionable the use must not fall within any of the statutory exemptions. Under the Act, 'fair use' of a mark in comparative advertising, 'non- commercial' use of a mark, and news reporting and commentary are not actionable."

    It seems that IDG was either unaware of this or felt that people's ignorance of the law or fear of litigation would allow their tactics to prevail.

  • by CBM ( 51233 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @10:42AM (#1086708)

    IDG's use of "phantom" trademarks may not be allowed. Phantom marks are those that contain elements unspecified at application time, like ".... for Dummies." Apparently trademark applicants are allowed only one trademark name per application.

    I found this little tidbit in a USPTO newsletter here [].

    Trademark applicants may not register phantom marks: The Federal Circuit upheld the Board's refusal to register a phantom trademark in In re International Flavors, 51 USPQ2d 1513 (Fed. Cir. 1999). A phantom trademark is "one in which an integral portion of the mark is generally represented by a blank or dashed line acting as a placeholder for a generic term or symbol that changes, depending on the use of the mark." International Flavors sought to register "LIVING XXXX FLAVORS," "LIVING XXXX FLAVOR," and "LIVING XXXX," where the "XXXX" serves to denote a specific herb, fruit, plant, or vegetable. The phantom marks would provide protection for such marks as "LIVING STRAWBERRY FLAVOR" and "LIVING CILANTRO FLAVOR." Thus, the applications sought to obtain registration of a potentially unlimited number of marks. The examining attorney refused registration of the marks, and the Board affirmed. International Flavors appealed to the Federal Circuit.

    The Federal Circuit agreed with the Commissioner that under the Lanham Act and the rules pertaining to it, a trademark application may seek to register only a single mark. The court therefore saw no reason to disturb the Board's finding that International Flavors sought to register multiple marks in violation of the one-mark-per-application requirement of the Lanham Act.

    The Federal Circuit further explained that federal registration benefits the market by providing constructive notice to the public of the registrant's ownership of the mark, thus preventing innocent misappropriation of the mark as a defense to an infringement charge. Phantom marks with missing elements fail to provide meaningful constructive notice to the public because they encompass too many combinations to make a thorough and effective search possible. Finally, the court also rejected International Flavors' argument that the PTO's failure to register the phantom marks denied it due process or equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

    There are still a few questions. If IDG already had their application approved by the USPTO, it may be harder for "infringers" to defend against it, even with the court ruling. Also, IDG may have legitimate claims to specific titles like "The Internet for Dummies" or even just "For Dummies," but anything "for Dummies" seems right out. As the federal court says, such phantom marks do not serve the public good, since there are too many potential infringing variations.

  • by kevin805 ( 84623 ) on Sunday May 07, 2000 @01:12PM (#1086709) Homepage
    I did a search on Melvyl, which searches all the UC's, and also Stanford and a couple other universities' libraries. I found three pre-IDG uses of "for dummies" in the title of a book.

    Author: Sclar, Deanna.
    Title: Auto repair for dummies / Deanna Sclar ; Don Donesley, technical
    advisor. New York : McGraw Hill, c1976.

    Author: Sclar, Deanna.
    Title: Auto repair for dummies / Deanna Sclar ; Don Donesley, technical
    advisor. Rev. ed. New York : McGraw-Hill, 1983.

    Author: Winenger, Dwight.
    Title: Music for dummies / Dwight Winenger. Desert Hot Springs, Ca. :
    Minuscule University Press, c1981.

    Someone ought to buy the rights to "Music for Dummies" and use it for a music web site. I'm sure it would really piss off IDG, since it isn't going to be good for public relations to sue someone who was using their "trademark" before they were.

    I found one book using "for Dummies" published in 1997. I'm curious what IDG has done about this. My guess is that it's non-commercial, and so out of their reach.

    Author: Morebeck, Nancy Justus.
    Title: Census for dummies : a quick guide "by example" to use indexes,
    soundex, CDs and the census ; includes a soundex coding card /
    by Nancy Justus Morebeck. Vacaville, CA : N. Morebeck, c1997.
    Description: [7] leaves : chiefly ill. ;c28 cm.

    Notes: Title from cover.

    What's interesting is who is the author of the Auto Repair for Dummies published back in 1976:

    1. Sclar, Deanna.
    Auto repair for dummies / Deanna Sclar ; Don Donesley, technical advisor.
    New York : McGraw Hill, c1976.

    2. Sclar, Deanna.
    Auto repair for dummies / Deanna Sclar ; Don Donesley, technical advisor.
    Rev. ed. New York : McGraw-Hill, 1983.
    3. Sclar, Deanna.
    Buying a car for dummies / by Deanna Sclar. Foster City, CA : IDG Books,
    Series title: --For dummies.

    She's now writing for IDG.

"God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh." - Voltaire