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!
Taylor, do you think I can insert a new word before dummies and use it. Example cooking for today’s dummies.net?
That might be sufficient. I’m not a lawyer, of course. Perhaps you can explore amazon.com and look for book titles that have “dummies” or “dummy” in their name, then check publishers?
Thanks. I’ll try that.
I can see …fordummies.com web name violates copyright, but how about …4dummies.com? Is this sufficiently different to avoid a copyright challenge?
Nope, that won’t work either, Jason because it still infringes on their trademark and can “cause confusion in the marketplace”.
if a web domain name is available and we use it – say “astronomyfordummies.com” or “teachyourselfknitting.com” (especially the latter I’m interested in”)…..surely the words “teach yourself” cannot be trademarked. What exactly would be the consequences or actions of a company against an individual if they started a small business under the above (teachyourselfcoding, teachyourselfknitting….etc)
Just to ask your advise re brand names & books, I guess the disney thread to my book is out then, but as some of its set in Paris, are all brand names, fashion houses as places of reference, clubs restaurants etc unusable ? thanks chris.
Leo, You need a lawyer. Find one and have them assist. Good luck.
I have written a self help book with a catchy title. i have also registered the trademark. however, another local psychotherapist’s practice is the same name of the book. she has not registered it officially, but under common law, had been using it about 1 year prior to my registering it. am i in danger of any lawsuits? she has sent me a letter demanding i give up the mark and never use it on anything. possible??
With the exception of obvious but perhaps less accurate sources like Amazon, etc., is there a searchable database of book titles which would-be authors can use to avoid naming their books with a title that has already been copyrighted?
Can I be sued for using an author’s style/ format of writing?
I have already written my book which is an insirational book. However it follows the format of a children’s story. For example if the childrens story started with an answer and then a question – my book would have the same format but it’ll be for adults. Can I get sued by the author for copying their format?
My neighbor actually has a “… for Dummies” book published and it was indeed under Wiley Publishing. HOWEVER, he said that his cut on the sales was so mediocre that it would probably have been better to publish the book on his own w/ a different title!
Agree. I helped an aspiring author friend register a “……fordummies.com” and a few weeks later he got some interesting letters from the “for Dummies” lawyers. Ouch!
In 2007 I launched my first startup, Gittel on the Go, Inc. in Los Angeles. I did as my marketing consultant suggested and purchased all variations of my company’s web address .com, .biz, etc.
What I didn’t do is think to purchase my company’s name misspelled. One month after launching my company’s website, I learned that we had a “cyber squatter” out of India that set up a shell of a website. I learned this because for all of the SEO that we were doing, out traffic plummeted in the week that the cyber squatter launched their site. I’ve applied for the trademark for my company but I have been advised that I should wait to say anything to these cyber squatters until the trademark is official (in a year) otherwise they can do things like run up our bill on our pay per click campaigns on google, yahoo,etc… What’s a small business owner to do. Apparently this is more prevalent than many people know. Is there some other way that I can defend Gittel on the Go against these sort of financial affronts? Thank you for your experience and response