I’m writing an instructional book (almost done) and I would like it to be “for dummies”. My question is about using the “for dummies” thing in my book title (and also this geek on every “for dummies book…) Can I just do it or do I need to ask permission from someone or pay someone? I understand that you went through this process and I would like to hear what you have to say about it. I really appreciate your response.
You’re right that I did write a “for Dummies” book, Solaris for Dummies, so you have asked the right blogger.
The short answer: definitely not.
In fact, the Dummies series, the Dummies guy, the color scheme, all of that is a registered trademark of J. Wiley & Sons, Inc. (and originally it was IDG Books, an imprint of IDG Corporation out of Boston, but the history of the imprint and gradual evolution of the Dummies press is a whole ‘nother, quite interesting story, but not relevant here).
What you’re asking me about is whether it’s okay to violate trademarks and copyright, and of course the answer is that it isn’t. This falls into the area of intellectual property and I will warn you that it’s one of the most aggressively defended areas of corporate law. For example, companies with well-known trademarked characters like Disney have teams of lawyers that pursue any copyright violation. That’s why you don’t see Disney themed blogs or MySpace pages, for example.
A quick glance at the Dummies web site (at, unsurprisingly enough, Dummies.com) reveals:
“For Dummies, the Dummies Man logo, Dummies.com, CliffsNotes, CliffsComplete, CliffsQuickReview, CliffsTestPrep, CliffsAP, Unofficial Guide, Hanging Out, Webster’s New World, Howell Book House, Happy Healthy Pet, M&T Books, Visual, Teach Yourself VISUALLY, Master VISUALLY, Read Less, Learn More, In An Instant, Cracking The Code, Simplified, Strategies, Secrets, Studio Secrets, Teach Yourself, Webster’s New World, Weekend Crash Course and all related trademarks, trade names, logos, characters, design, and trade dress are trademarks or registered trademarks of Wiley Publishing, Inc. in the United States and other countries and may not be used without written permission.”
Is that comprehensive enough?
Some of this is akin to cards they can pull out in a tough poker match, of course, because they can’t really have a trademark for the word “simplified” or “strategies”, but within a specific, narrow context, it is within their legal rights to claim those as trademarks. For example, I think it would be hard for them to successfully claim trademark violation on an ebook entitled “Dave’s 33 Secret Online Marketing Strategies” but they certainly could — and will — go after an ebook called “Online Marketing For Dummies”.
Now, can you pay to license their name? I know Wiley and I can tell you that the answer is no again. The only properties that get the Dummies logo and treatment are those that have gone through their corporate licensing department or those that they are producing themselves. And as an individual, the license will doubtless crush all your entrepreneurial enthusiasm before you even get started.
My advice instead: find a different name and if you feel that the Dummies imprint is such a great match, consider spinning things a bit. Perhaps “for Beginners” or “for Starters” could work? (beware of “for Complete Idiots Guide”, though, because that’s another trademarked imprint, this time from Penguin, and, by coincidence, I have also written a book for that publisher too).
Hope this helps you out. The key idea is to try not to overlap book titles with an existing series or publisher and you should be fine to proceed. Good luck!