Who Owns DFTBA? An Introduction to Trademarks

Good morning Hank, it’s Tuesday. So, recently nerdfighters have been asking me a lot about this Don’t Forget to be Awesome rug available at Urban Outfitters, like, did we license this? No. Are they paying us? No. Are we happy about it? Hmm, not really. Can we stop them? Yes. But we’re not going to. Welcome to the wild world of trademarks. So first off, Hank, Urban Outfitters is not alone in this co-opting of DFTBA. Like, there’s this Kate Spade wallet that says Don’t Forget to Be Awesome. As does this Hobby Lobby poster and this dELiA*s T-shirt and this Aeropostale ad. There’s also this thing from Pier 1, stuff from Ron Jon Surf Shop. Now Hank, I know that we did not invent the phrase “Don’t Forget to be Awesome.” So far as I know, it was invented by my friend Katie Else in 2007. However, we did popularize it. The phrase had almost no Google hits or searches before nerdfighters began using it. And Hank, because the phrase is so closely associated with us, it would easy enough for us to go and hire a lawyer and trademark it and then we could send Urban Outfitters a cease-and-desist letter that would be like, “Hi, either stop selling this doormat or else publicly apologize for firing all of your Swedish employees when they attempted to unionize.” And I would kind of like to do that, partly because I don’t want corporations co-opting Nerdfighteria, and partly because I am tired of getting emails asking me why, for instance, nerdfighter slogans are available at Hobby Lobby, a corporation that until, like, a month ago, refused to carry menorahs. Ah, but wait. Here is the problem with trademarks. You cannot selectively enforce them. So Hank, if we trademarked DFTBA and “Don’t Forget to be Awesome,” we can’t just tell Urban Outfitters and Hobby Lobby to stop making “Don’t Forget to be Awesome” stuff. We have to tell everyone to stop using that phrase, including, like, nerdfighters who make awesome stuff and sell it on Etsy. Like, I’d have to send cease-and-desist letters to the people who made this amazing spoon or these Hanklerfish greeting cards or this DFTBA scarf. God, that is awesome. And I don’t want to do that because I don’t want that stuff to stop existing. In fact, in many cases, I want to personally buy it. But if we selectively enforce our trademark, then Urban Outfitters and Hobby Lobby can be like, “No, no, no, no, no, this isn’t really trademarked because look, they don’t care when those people use the phrase.” So the only way to stop Urban Outfitters from selling DFTBA rugs is to also stop nerdfighters from selling DFTBA scarves, and of course, that’s bananas. You couldn’t explain this to any court. But the truth is, the phrase “Don’t Forget to be Awesome” doesn’t belong to you and me, Hank. It belongs to Nerdfighteria. So Hank, we aren’t going to trademark “Don’t Forget to be Awesome” because it would mean claiming ownership over something that isn’t really ours. And that means that occasionally, we’re going to have to deal with companies trying to co-opt the sayings of the nerdfighter community. But Hank, I suggest the vast majority of nerdfighters will continue to make their own DFTBA stuff, or else buy from independent creators, or buy it at DFTBA.com, where the royalties from nerdfighter merchandise are always shared with the nerdfighters who design that stuff. Anyway, I want to say one more thing about trademarks, because it totally fascinates me. If you had a lot of other people use your trademark and it becomes weakened, it can eventually become what’s called, “genericized”, and that is every brand’s nightmare. Like, aspirin used to be trademarked by the company that distributed it, Bayer. And that meant that only Bayer could call their acytlsalicytic acid aspirin the way that only Advil can call their ibuprofen Advil. But because the aspirin trademark weakened over time and everyone just started calling that drug aspirin, now anyone can call their aspirin “aspirin.” The same thing happened to escalator and thermos and it almost happened to some brands we know pretty well today, including Nintendo, which marketed the phrase “game console”, so people wouldn’t call all consoles Nintendos, and to Google, which is why Google has always very careful to talk about searching, even with the rest of us always talk about “googling”. Hank, companies like Nintendo and Google are terrified of their trademarks becoming genericized because those trademarks define them. But our community is lucky enough to be defined not by its name or by its mottoes, but by the values those words represent. And those values don’t become less meaningful when they are shared. In fact, quite the contrary. Hank, I’ll see you on Friday.

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100 thoughts on “Who Owns DFTBA? An Introduction to Trademarks

  1. Fun fact, Google threaten to sue the Swedish Royal Accademy of science (Those who assigns most Nobel prizes) for trying to add "ogooglebar" (ungoogleble) to the official list of Swedish words. 

  2. Can't you just trade-mark it and put out a legal statement that TFTBA may be used freely by those decreasing suck in the world, thus being awesome. Then sending out sease and desist letters to those increasing suck in the world.

  3. Kleenex, iPod, Sharpie, Coke (mostly in the South) — other brands that are either very close to becoming genericized or have already been.

  4. Here in the UK the word hoover has become genericised and now refers to all vacuum cleaners, like to the point where for like 18 years of NY life I didn't even know hoover was a brand or that vacuum cleaners were called vacuum cleaners, hoover was just the name for the thing

  5. Wouldn't this work with Gracefacing? I mean, My Damn Channel won't let her use the graceface because they copyrighted it, but every Tuesday for years My Damn Channel has shown people Gracefacing, even calling it that, on Facebook and Twitter and such. Wouldn't that be selective copyright?

  6. Could you guys please make and sell a DFTBA rug or link to an actual nerdfighter who does? I want one but don't want to buy the evil one…

  7. If you're constantly getting asked why DFTBA is turning up in places, maybe just make a list on the website. 
    "These guys are cool", "These guys are not" would make it a lot easier for people who research on their own, and allow you to just copy/paste a link when someone asks you directly. It could even have a special sub-email for people to submit trespasses/homages to.

  8. See, as long as you aren't /actively/ giving permission to some people while restricting others you are fine – you're simply being busy doing more important things, and will "get around to chasing down everyone… eventually… but in the mean time take your complaint and stuff it up your ass next to your head KTHANKSBYE." Simple as that.

  9. You could trademark DFTBA as owned by nerdfighteria, and be like, hey nerdighteria owns it, so everyone in it can do DFTBA stuff

  10. As others have said, I think you need to trademark the phrase just to ensure that someone else doesn't file for it. I say that because they could use it to cause the same problems you're wanting to avoid. If you want to ensure the community is able to make their fan art, trademark it and then do nothing to enforce.

  11. Would it be possible to make nerdfightaria a legal entity and stop companies using DFTBA but let nerd fighters use it.

  12. Hey John,
    Great video, I feel a semi-solution coming on… so, here is my idea. As you probably know not all people in the world are evil like they seem on the road. Some people, even those in large business power can be reasoned with. In short what if you sent a very nicely worded letter to corporations like Urban Outfitters suggesting that when selling DFTBA objects they site either you guys, (thevlogbrothers), or as you suggest they site us Nerdfighteria. 

    Also, completely off topic, but I notice that when I type DFTBA that the red squiggly line appears under the phrase. What would be your reaction if whoever determines what a word is and what is not decides that DFTBA is a word and consequently the squiggly disappears? I'm curious.

    Thanks for the great video,
    and John Don't Forget to be Awesome!!!!!

  13. The Aspirin trademark did not weaken over time. Bayer was forced to give up the trademarks Aspirin and Heroin as part of the Treaty of Versailles.

  14. Ha ha, exploitative capitalist suckbags get owned by their own slogan. DFTBA = Don't Forget 'Tubers are Ball-sucking Assholes!

  15. I'm really glad you are letting us use DFTBA because I put it on the board in my classroom every time I am going to miss class. I write a note to my students on the board praising how fantastic they are and reassuring them that I have the utmost faith that they will behave well for the sub, and I sign it every time with "And DFTBA! Class, I'll see you on (the day I will return)."   

    p.s. Please don't sue me for stealing your sign off as well. 

  16. How about you make it so that companies can't use DFTBA unless they say "french the lama" on there merchandise? Eh? Ehhhhh?

  17. I gots a plan, if you trademark only ''don't forget to be awesome'' but don't trademark ''DFTBA'', you would successfully keep the nerdfighter clothes but still ban the rest right?

  18. He neglected to mention "Kleenex" which is itself a brand of tissues, but over time all tissues became Kleenex and so now you don't grab a "Puff's plus" you grab a Kleenex, even if the brand of said Kleenex is "Puff's Plus"

  19. Urban Outfitters is such a horrible corporation… they steal so many small ideas and try to bank on it… ugh… -_- SO not awesome…

  20. This is incorrect. If you trademark something, you can have any company desist. You can also give any company permission to use it. You don't have to order all companies to desist using your trademark.

  21. I'd advise registering the trademark because otherwise, someone else can register it first–like what happened with Candy Swipe and Candy Crush. Register it, but tell the lawyers to sue no one. I'd argue that if you sue no one, it's not selective enforcement, because you aren't favoring nor disfavoring anyone arbitrarily. You're letting everyone off the hook equally. And the trademark registration won't be withdrawn due to non-use because you actually use it every day right here in this Youtube channel.

    Caveat: I'm assuming US Trademark laws are similar to Philippine trademark laws, which I've studied extensively. If they aren't, disregard this post.

  22. Can't you, like, trade mark the phrase and then sell a license enabling to make derivative work including your copy-written phrase  to everyone who makes products you like for 0$ and to the company disliked by you for a nice amount of cash?

  23. hahaha not a creative in fact a stupid way to make money from something that is useless and have no value to society, trademark are rewarded for creativity and the eventual benefits to society dude, if you have no talent or resources to make a small business or lazy enough to actually work, invest in the stock market or sell guns, if you want to be a bad man sell illegal drugs. By the way because of the jobs and the technological innovations generated by the multi-billion pharmaceutical industry aspirin-and the likes- has become a generic term which like most useful stuff cannot be prevented from being used by others and have to be localize because the elite are aware that the people especially third world countries- might feel Imperialism-which is very bad-which is not similar and the opposite of Democracy.

  24. I know this was made a while ago but just to correct the asprin thing: Asprin is still trademarked in most of the world, however after WWII, Bayer (a german company) was forced to give up claims to that trademark in the UK, US and a few other countries. 

  25. I may be wrong about this sense I'm not business savvy but couldn't you just employ the people on etsy who are making DFTBA stuff, trademark the phrase, and then just let the etsy people keep the profits while not paying them out of your own pocket?

  26. Can someone else Trademarket DFTBA and stop John and Hank and the rest of Nerdfighteria from using it? Or, are they not able to? It's just a scary thought, please answer 🙂

  27. Creative Commons licensing allows you to limit licensing only to certain parties.  So, yes, you CAN stop the big corporations from using while allowing little guys to keep using it.  Hire a lawyer who knows how Creative Commons licensing works.

  28. http://www.gofundme.com/DFTBA

    Hey the University of Michigan DFTBA club has a subcommittee that is planning an alternative spring break trip to Maryland to do community service, please check us out 🙂 

  29. I don't know about y'all, but I'd buy that Kate Spade wallet. (if i had the money which alas i do not) it's sort of cute?

  30. google shoudnt be worried, when someone says they are googling they dont mean going on yahoo, it means they are going to google.

  31. If you own a trademark, and it is yours to do as you please, why can't you selectively enforce it? Surely your ownership of the trademark would allow you to do with it as you please, including allowing independent creators to use it and preventing large companies from using it. Does the law prevent this? By allowing Indie Creators to use the trademark and not large corporations, can you have the trademark removed?

  32. Since I doubt Urban Outfitter and others would go as far as to trademark DFTBA themself…couldn`t you just simply copy (perhaps with slight iterations) their DFTBA designs and sell them on the legit DFTBA store?

  33. Terrific and very valid points… some things are not worth going to court over… and I commend you on your CTBA (Continuing To Be Awesome!).  Also, I always say "google" when I mean "search" 'cause I've tried everything out there and still like Google best.

  34. The Fine Bros are either incredibly naive to think they could still be nice guys and selectively enforce their broad trademark of the word "react." Either that or they were lying to us and really were planning on using the trademark to bully and profit off of the community.

  35. Interestingly enough, I saw that exact Hobby Lobby DFTBA poster in my school and I was mistakenly excited over its false nerdfighterity.

  36. I'm a little curious. Didn't Ze Frank have something to do with popularizing the world and word of awesomeness in its many forms? I would think it would be kind to mention his influence on the vlogging world all together seeing is he was one of, if not, the, first to sustain a daily video feed, unmonetized I might add, long before YouTube vloggers pointed their Canon D70s at themselves. I believe there's a royalty cut in there for ol'Ze since it might have all started with "The Show" – just say'n, credit is definitely and finally due.

  37. Wait this doesn't make sense to me. Say you trade mark DFTBA, then it becomes your private property right? It'd make sense that I can offer my private property freely to the public, but selectively say to a few. "I don't like you, you don't get to use the stuff I offer freely to everyone else".
    Just because you let other people use your stuff doesn't make it any less your stuff. But then again maybe I shouldn't expect legal stuff to make sense.

  38. Tbh I'm glad I watched this video, I was contemplating making a pretty DFTBA artwork to sell as a print on my (not yet open) etsy but I was going back and forth because I didn't want to disrespect the people I've looked up to for the last ten years! I'll just make sure to make it extra awesome!

  39. Couldn't they trademark it to the community? and not themselves? like, have Nerdfighteria own the trademark and not Joh/Hank Green and then just have the community send cease and desist letters to non-nerdfighters?

  40. Can't you do a trademark and give a free license to someone? Although your giving out licenses to each Nerdfighter who wants to use it would probably require a legal department of its own…

  41. i live in china and theres a store in the mall that has a display that says dont forget to be awesome. funny thing is im sure no one in that store knows what that means cause most people dont speak english here. they just slap random english on things cause its trendy

  42. Welcome to my fellow time travelers coming from John's video today about Kylie Jenner's copyright/trademark fiasco. 😉

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