Friday, May 08, 2009

More on my own "do ask do tell" domain and book names


Yesterday (May 7) I got a question from a domain registration company about whether I had an issue if a businessman in China wanted to use the domain name “doaskdotell” for some of his domains overseas since I own doaskdotell.com.

I’ve discussed domain names along with company names, trademarks, and book and movie titles before.

ICANN sets up a variety of high level tld’s and permits different entities to use the same root with a different tld, as long as the names are registered in “good faith.” Well known examples are wm.com (Waste Management) vs. wm.edu (the College of William and Mary), and history.com (the History Channel) v. history.org (Colonial Williamsburg). With literate Internet or Web visitors, this does not create a problem.

Trademark law in the United States is based on the idea that instant brand recognition by consumers is important in a company’s ability to sell its products or services, provide employment, and meet the fiduciary demands of its investors. In one sense, trademark law is “anti-literate”. There has always been some tension between the subject of domain names and trademarks ever since the Web went “public” and individuals were allowed to register “untaken’ domain names, often without a lot of legal acumen. On the international stage, this idea also holds, although the specifics of laws vary from one country to the next and are a political issue, as in the EU.

Individuals, in a free entry system, often create domains for non-financial reasons, such as political participation. The suffix “.com” came into common use in the 1990s before there was much understanding of this, and that it might confuse consumers or interfere with some kinds of businesses. Subsequently, .biz was created with the idea that an individual needed capital and revenue before using an associate name.

In fact, in the bricks and mortar world, the idea of a “tld” does exist. Consider “Coca Cola” and “Pepsi Cola”. They both use the word “cola” as if it were like a tld, because cola is a common product and the general public is familiar with what it means, without any requirement for special literacy. There has never been a controversy over these two company’s names or trademarks. The problem on the Internet is that the range of products, services and ideas (and business models) is so great that typically consumers do not grasp what is happening, and often businessmen choosing domain names do not grasp it either.



The root “doaskdotell” occurs today with several tld’s. I use only “.com”. I set it up in 1999 and have it paid for and reserved (with Network Solutions, where you can look it up on WHOIS) until 2012. I intend to use it until at least that time, perhaps beyond that and perhaps indefinitely. A couple of the others appear to be “parked” domains for ads and links (probably hoping to profit from my own “notoriety” which I will get to in a moment) and still another offers a different kind of service. The phrase “Do Ask Do Tell” forms the higher level title of two of my books published by iUniverse in 2000 and 2002 (the first was originally self-published with a book manufactuer’s printing and self-registration of the ISBN in 1997). I think it is possible that the phrase would make a good title of a movie, and that it will be used as such. I cannot be more specific right now on the idea of a film called "Do Ask Do Tell...", but I think it is possible that I might even be able to bootstrap interest in such a project and have some ownership or participation in it.

Personally, I also think that the phrase would make a good name for a motion picture production company committed to making “political” or “social” or “historical” films. I think that the name would be appropriate for a news reporting service following the new “Internet age” model for journalism, recognizing that something new has to come after the “creative destruction” of the old newspaper industry.

What I hope does not happen is that it winds up as a trademark for something “silly”.

“Do Ask Do Tell” is a phrase of common words that in the United States has a social and political meaning derived out of the political debate over “openness” about sexual orientation and personal identity, which occurred when President Clinton tried to lift the ban on gays in the military in 1993, and we wound up with the flawed compromise of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, which is likely to be eventually repealed. Perhaps I helped give it that meaning with my books and website. Perhaps it would have that meaning anyway. The media, both “establishment” and “newbie”, quickly give meaning to common words and phrases, often outside of normal commercial or branding usage. One should note that the poster for the new film (from Magnolia Pictures) about closeted gay politicians “Outrage” has the phrase on its poster, but it is not part of the movie title.

There is nothing legally wrong with companies wanting to use it for other purposes (for example. “Do Tell” has been used in the telecommunications business in the US). But I wonder if it is a good idea for businessmen, particularly overseas, to try to use it that way. They may find that use of a “common English idiomatic phrase” that has taken on a political meaning could hinder sales and financial success of a business. Overseas especially, they may not fully understand the meaning that the phrase has in the United States. So I think that other businesses should use caution when considering using the phrase with other tld’s.

I certainly intend to keep using it as I have outlined.

I can imagine how other words could quickly get a new meaning in the future, such as Joshua Cooper Ramo’s use of the word “sandpile” as a part-title in his book ("The Age of the Unthinkable", already noted by our president indiectly in at least one speech.

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