Here I present two letters. One is from a lawyer who works for IDG (the publishing company). The other is my response. Any commentary seems superfluous :-)

From: Isabelle Drewelow 
Subject: your web site
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1999 23:14:11 +0100
Status: RO


October 28, 1999

De Clarke

Re:	CVS for Dummies

Dear De,

Your web site at
  entitled "A Real Beginner's
Guide to CVS, a document that is affectionately known as "CVS for Dummies"
was brought to my attention.

I have reviewed the site and found it very interesting and educational.
Unfortunately, it utilizes the phrase "for Dummies" which is confusingly
similar to the well-known trademark owned by IDG Books. "...For DummiesŪ".
The "For DummiesŪ" series has been in existence since 1991 and we have made
a considerable investment in promoting and  protecting our trademarks. As a
result, today as evidenced by many articles written and comments received
from distributors, customers and the press, it is clear that the "Dummies
and For Dummies" trademarks are widely identified with IDG Books. 

In short, this trademark is an  extremely valuable asset of our company and
we want to protect it against dilution. For your information, dilution is a
relatively new area of law which requires the owner of a trademark to
protect it against "erosion" and/or dilution. Some famous examples of
trademark dilution are Kleenex tissues, Xeroxing, Scotch Tape and Aspirin,
as these marks were not protected by their respective owners and today have
become almost generic terms. At IDG Books, our goal is to prevent such
"generalization" from happening to our trademarks. 

 I assume that you did not intend to infringe and dilute the "For DummiesŪ"
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.

Very truly yours,

Isabelle Drewelow
Trademark Coordinator
IDG Books Worldwide, Inc.

Fom Mon Nov 01 12:27:53 1999
Subject: lawyer letters

To whom it may concern:

We have received, on Thursday October 28th, a politely 
threatening memo (attached) from Ms. Isabelle Drewelow, 
your "trademark coordinator," with regard to our use of 
the text "for dummies" in the following context:  

	A Real Beginner's Guide to CVS
	by De Clarke
	UCO/Lick Observatory

	This document is affectionately known as "CVS for dummies". 

	No offence meant! ...


Ms Drewelow sent us a "cease and desist" instruction 
requesting that we expunge the words "for dummies" from 
our site, on the grounds that casual usage of these 
words constitutes an infringement or dilution of IDG's 
trademark book series title.  We are not the only site 
or individual to have received such a message this 

In fact, IDG's "lawyer letters" were, by last Friday 
night, the hottest topic on and several 
other discussion groups.  Your legal staff had 
apparently sent c&d instructions to more than one owner 
of a mailing list or usenet discussion group whose 
members had presumed to use "...  for dummies" in the 
subject line of mail messages and postings, as well as 
to webmasters such as myself who used the catch-phrase 
(whether in jest, satire, or simple reference) in online 

By now I am sure you are aware of rather widespread 
ridicule and ire directed against IDG as a result of 
this action on your part.  Commentary on 
and in other fora was running about 10 to 1 against IDG 
by late last week; some people were irate enough to 
cancel their Linux World subscriptions, and some had 
even sworn never to purchase another publication of any 
kind from your company.  I would not go quite that far 
myself, but I must admit that we found the c&d letter 
rather foolish and annoying, despite its impeccably 
courteous tone.  

While I understand (some of) the ridiculous constraints 
imposed on those who seek to protect their copyrights 
from commercial piracy, I can't help feeling that your 
recent action must be somewhat self-defeating.  Surely 
it has done more damage to IDG's reputation, and 
potentially to your sales, than any amount of 
fundamentally innocent, casual public use of the 2 
common English words "for dummies" could have done.  

As to our specific situation, I believe that as an 
educational and non-profit research institution we are 
protected from litigious harassment in this instance 
by US trademark law.  

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."

This analyst's view (see 

from which this text was quoted) is borne out by the 
actual text of the US Trademark Law and Federal Statutes, 
published by the US Patent Office. 15 U.S.C. section 
1125(c) (governing dilution) says quite clearly in 
subsection (4) 

	"The following shall not be actionable under this 
	 (A) Fair use of a famous mark by another person 
	     in comparative commercial advertising or 
	 (B) Noncommercial use of a mark.
	 (C) All forms of news reporting and news commentary."

You couldn't get much more non-commercial than our site.

It would have made a lot more sense to everyone if your 
lawyers had checked on the URLs, newsgroups, etc. that 
their web-bot fished up, to determine which (if any) 
were commercial enterprises, before firing off solemn 
legal threats.  I agree that you should go after anyone 
who commences commercial publication of books that 
imitate your look and feel, format, and series title -- 
with all guns blazing. But harassing private 
individuals, Universities, or other entities for casual 
use of the words "for dummies" in purely noncommercial 
contexts hardly seems worth your time and effort.  

Actually, if I were IDG I would be delighted that the 
"dummies" book series had become so popular as to evolve 
into a common catch phrase.  There could be no stronger 
indication of your success!  

In summary, we respectfully decline to alter the text of 
our web page by Nov 11th, or by any later date.  
However, if you can produce evidence of subsequent 
separate legislation, or amendments to the 1995 law, 
which revoke the (4)(B) exclusion for noncommercial use, 
then we will of course be happy to comply.  

yrs most sincerely

:De Clarke, Software Engineer                     UCO/Lick Observatory, UCSC:
:Mail: | There are only two kinds of computer languages: the :
:Web: | ones people hate, and the ones people don't use.--JO:


The UC Regents don't care if my code works for you or not, so there are no guarantees. Read the COPYRIGHT statement on anything you download from us. Everything you get from us is free. As software ought to be. :-)
De Clarke
UCO/Lick Observatory
University of California
Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Tel: +1 408 459 2630
Fax: +1 408 454 9863