Playboy and The Straight Dope?

I didn’t know where to put this but it must have a factual answer so what the heck. Move it if you must.

I got my Novermber issue of Playboy in the mail today (yes, for the articles) and there is an article in it titled “The Straight Dope.”

It is about drug myths (the pitcher who pitched a game on LSD, Tim Leary on LSD on his deathbed, etc.) and what the Straight Dope is. It’s used over dozen times in the article and I was wondering if the Chicago Reader knew about it. Does this violate the trademark? I know they’re both in Chicago, are they affiliated in any way?

What’s the REAL Straight Dope?

Well, the idiom “the straight dope” has been in common usage for a very long time… I doubt the Chicago reader has any copyright on it.

I’d guess it would be a violation only if in an article regularly titled the Straight Dope. Maybe not in a single leader. I read Playboy for the articles too. :slight_smile:

From the main page

If the Reader chose to pursue it, it looks like they would have a good case, similar to calling any copier a Xerox.

How can you copyright a common phrase? That’s like me copyrighting “Damn it to hell”.

If Playboy began running a regular general purpose question-and-answer column and called it “The Straight Dope”, THEN I think they’d have a good case. I’m not a copyright lawyer, but I find it difficult to believe you can copyright a relatively common phrase and go around suing people for using it.

If you read the bottom of this page is says clearly:
“The Straight Dope by Cecil Adams” is a registered trademark.

It doesn’t say:
“The Straight Dope” is a registered trademark.

But then who knows?

Well, the title was <i>The Straight Dope</i> and then they listed the myth in a format like this:

WORD ON THE STREET: Blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda

And then onto the next myth (twenty of them).

Sue Did they give any sources for their refutation of the various UL’s ?

Article written by Staphan Talty And yes, he quotes various books, remarks people made, etc. Regarding Dock Ellis and the LSD no-hitter:

The thing that bugs me is I KNOW I’ve seen some of the questions answered right here. The Dock Ellis one. The Dark Side of the Moon vs. Wizard of Oz one. The Army testing LSD on soldiers. HR Pufnstuf. Puff the Magic Dragon. And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head.

Didn’t you read the cite, it’s a registered trademark, not a copyright.

Well that’s helpful. Thanks a billion. :rolleyes:

When I registered a trademark, I spent a bit of time poking around the USPTO website. I looked my biggest competitor, and found their trademark, SEI, along with a whole mess of other SEIs. My understanding at the time was that what you trademark is a specific graphical representation. If that’s correct, the phrase “The Straight Dope” is only a registered trademark of the Chicago Reader when it’s in the form you see at the top of this page.


Would you like to place a bet on that?

Go to the bottom of the page.

IANAL. While I always understood that short, common phrases could not be protected against other use–book/movie titles for example, just try to operate any kind of restaurant under your own name if it happens to be McDonald. . .

From the USPTO database
Goods and Services: Newspaper Column
Registration Number: 1152348
Registration Date: April 28, 1981
Owner: (REGISTRANT) Chicago Reader

Goods and Services: Television programs
Serial Number 75068051
Filing Date March 5, 1996 (ABANDONED)

Goods and Services: electronic mail services
Registration Number: 2151502
Registration Date: April 14, 1998

I would presume from Squinks list that the trademark only applies in this context to the use of “The Straight Dope” as the title of a newspaper column, not to a single use as the title of a magazine article.

Likewise, it would seem anyone could start a TV show called “The Straight Dope,” since that mark has been abandoned.

You now owe me fifty cents.

My lawyer will send you the necessary paperwork.

[sub]This message brought to you by Damn it to Hell Enterprises, established 1995[/sub]

Darn, foiled again.

Let’s get clear on the distinctions between these two forms of intellectual property law:

Copyright is “a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.”

Trademark (same link as above) is “a word, name, symbol or device which is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others.”

You can’t copyright a title or a short common phrase. But you can trademark a word or phrase to identify your products. So the Chicago Reader cannot take action against Playboy or anyone else who uses the phrase “the straight dope” in an article, even in the title. But ** Anamorphic ** is right that Mr. Hefner would probably get a letter from Unca Cec’s lawyers if Playboy started running a column called “The Straight Dope.”

Recognizing that it would be unfair to allow anyone to have exclusive trademark rights to a word or phrase, the law allows for the same mark to be issued to more than one person or company if there is little chance that consumers would be likely to confuse them. So a trademark on “The Straight Dope” might also be issued to, say, a head shop.

Ringo is half right: you can trademark the specific graphic form of the mark or the word/phrase or both. You can also trademark a logo or other graphic image (e.g. the Nike “swoosh”).