General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

So now, stealing a name is okay.

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This one takes the cake, but let's start with the normal disclaimer about the legalities being a no-no on this board. This is mostly about jaw-dropping snowflakiness.

My brother has an unusual name, let's say it's Spiffy Spifferson.  Spiffy is a pretty successful guy. He has a couple of businesses registered in his name, although he's never registered it as a domain name.  He is very well known in his community. He recently purchased Very Desirable Car (VDC), a process that involved a lot of interaction with the VDC factory. He keeps meticulous notes, including several conversations with "Bob Boringname", an employee at VDC.

Well, sometime in the last few months, Bob Boringname left VDC to launch a brand of, let's say, special widgets for spiffy people. Remembering my brother's name, he went online and registered He then started a Kickstarter campaign to make and sell spiffy widgets. He even made a video saying the widgets are designed and made by Spiffy Spifferson.

Well, one of my brother's friends saw it and of course, called him and said, "Spiffy, I didn't know you're making widgets now!"

It didn't take much sleuthing for Spiffy to put two and two together. He contacted Bob, who admitted in an email that he took the name because he liked it. Spiffy very politely informed him that he couldn't use his name without his permission, but that if he was willing to give him some control over the widgets, he would not only allow him to use the name, but he would also sell them at one of the stores that he owns. Pretty good deal, right?

Bob's response: "I don't know, I'll think about it".

I'll give you two guesses as to what my brother's response was. And maybe a couple of days before is no longer available.

I can understand Spiffy Spifferson's reaction being that Bob Boringname is not only rude but is going to be legally restricted from access to a "stolen" (or at least borrowed without permission) name, under the circumstances.

Because he is implying that your brother (or someone with the same legal name) is part of the new company and thus supports it with his good reputation - that goes beyond rude and into SS behavior of the Blizzard of the Decade variety (and also has more repercussions than just etiquette - but even "just the etiquette" is pretty bad).   There are some things that you DO ask permission to use.....someone's good name as a reference of any kind is one of them.

Modified because I see an etiquette angle to this as well as the legal one - Bob never asked Spiffy about being a part of the widget business - and it sounds like Spiffy might actually have had something to bring to the contract table about setting up some kind of limited partnership - contacts, a good reputation, and possibly expertise in other areas.  Since Bob was so rude as to attempt to use the name without consulting the owner of the name (apparently Spiffy may be the ONLY person with that name in a country - possibly an even larger area - it might be a stretch to say that Spiffy is the only owner of that name on the planet......but there are some unusual names that would be rare enough to stand out). 

Note - I am not an IP person - I do have a spouse who got a bad contract with respect to intellectual property.  The company ceased doing business for a while and then restarted with one of the original owners under a modified name - probably not using the same IP that spouse worked on as the standards in that field have changed.......due to the time that has passed and the difficulty of sorting out what tiny percentage of a not very large business's product might still be using it, he decided that (for him) it wasn't worth either legal or etiquette hassles.  We no longer live in that area.  He no longer works in that field.  He doesn't worry about it.  His name is no longer attached to the enterprise.  He no longer lists it on his resume (except in the most general terms) due to how long ago it was.


--- Quote from: VorFemme on May 20, 2013, 11:39:52 AM ---I can understand Spiffy Spifferson's reaction being that Bob Boringname is not only rude but is going to be legally restricted from access to a "stolen" name, under the circumstances.

Because he is implying that your brother (or someone with the same legal name) is part of the new company and supports it with his good reputation.

When the real Spiffy barely knows Bob from any other male human being on the planet of about the same height, weight, and coloring......

--- End quote ---

We should refrain from weighing in on the legalities. I'm guessing you're not an IP lawyer.

It was pretty ballsy of Bob to use your brother's name.  He's certainly not obigated to agree to your brothers offer but it does sound like a pretty good compromise.

This is an interesting problem, because people create characters for business all the time. Betty Crocker and Mavis Beacon, for instance, aren't real people and never actually existed. They are simply personas designed to sell products. I see this mostly as an instance of that: someone picked a name that they thought fit their product and ran with it. Who knows whether or not there is or was a real Betty Crocker/Mavis Beacon or the person who "created" them once knew someone who had that name in real life (or perhaps had overheard it or something).

I don't think it is rude to create a character to sell a product, even if that character happens to share a name with a real person. However, the ethical and etiquette dilemmas do exist when someone uses a real person to try and sell a problem. It's definitely rude to claim a closer association with someone than you actually have or pretend that you have a particular person on board with your company when you don't.

I think it boils down to this: is Bob using Spiffy's name or Spiffy's identity? If he is using just the name to go with a corporate persona/mascot/etc, then I think he's in the clear. However, if Bob is using Spiffy's identity and pretending to be affiliated with Spiffy the actual person, he's overstepped.

The difference is that Betty Crocker and Mavis Beacon don't and never did exist.  Spiffy does exist, and Bob not only knows of his existence, he has a professional relationship with Spiffy from Spiffy's car purchase.  If he had just accidentally made up the name, it would be a different story (etiquette wise, anyway).


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