Gizoogle: A Trademark Nightmare?

-

Parlez-vous Izzle? Not yet? If you've been yearning to better understand this unique language used by hip hop and rap artists, Gizoogle just may be the answer. It's a Web site that gives you the same basic results as Google, the world's most popular search engine—but "tranzilated" into slang often associated with rapper Snoop Dogg (a.k.a. Snoop D-O-Double Gizzle) with izzles, obscenities, and even song lyrics thrown in.

Gizoogle Web designer John Beatty started the site as a joke after inspiration from a friend's constant use of the slang on America Online's Instant Messenger service and also by Snoop's "Doggy Fizzle Televizzle" program on MTV. The site, which receives about 60,000 hits per day, was released earlier this year and has become quite a sensizzle. In February, Gizoogle was #4 on Entertainment Weekly's "Must List" behind U2's video "All Because of You," Patricia Arquette's performance in "Medium," and the film "Aliens of the Deep."

Gizoogle, subtitled "Fo all you beotches who wanna find shiznit," uses Google's basic search program, but the gangsta-version counts syllables, puts "izzle" in certain words, and adds popular Snoop Dogg lyrics as well as other phrases. The site also has a "textilizer," which allows you to type in lines, say from an innocent nursery rhyme, and get the izzled version. For example:

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner

Eating his Christmas pie;

He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum

And said "What a good boy am I!"

becomes:

Little Jack Drug Deala sat in a corner
Eat'n his Christmas pie;
He S-T-to-tha-izzuck in his thumb n pulled out a plum
And said "Whizzat a good boi am I!"

No less a source than the Washington Post reported that the roots of Izzle speak are "fuzzizzle." The Post traces the slang back to a 1981 song "Double Dutch Bus" by Philadelphia songwriter Frankie Smith—the tale of a man denied a bus-driving job by SEPTA (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) with the backdrop of the children's jump rope game, Double Dutch.

At the end of the song, along with adding "iz" in some of the children's names during roll call, the title is sung as "Dilzzouble Dizzutch." The record sold 4 million copies and spent 6 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts; since then, countless rappers and hip hop artists have incorporated the slang into lyrics, most notably Snoop Dogg and his cohorts.

Gizoogle has proven to be an amusing way to pass time for many people, but is it perfectly lizzle? Along with having the same basic search features, Gizoogle's logo mirrors Google's multicolored lettering except that the two o's are framed with chrome wheel rims. Gizoogle plainly states that it has no affiliation with the mainstream search engine, but does Google have an arguable claim of trademark infringement?

Many people would say yes. A trademark can be a word, name, symbol, device, color, sound, smell, or any combination of these that identifies the source of goods or services. A common law trademark is one that is not registered and is denoted by "TM" for goods and "SM" for services; once a trademark is registered with the federal or state government, usually by a trademark attorney, the appropriate symbol is ¨. The purpose of trademarks are to protect the public, so that we can trust the source of a given good or service as being the one we think it is.

But Google isn't saying much about Gizoogle, and its reluctance to interfizzle may have to do with its 2004 battle with a Web site called Booble. This pornography search engine appeared with a name and homepage that bore quite a resemblance to Google's, only with the two o's altered to more reflect its content. The founder of the site, a former senior executive of one of America's leading online services who wishes to remain anonymous, wanted Booble to be "fun, but useful too."

But Google didn't appreciate receiving letters accusing it of going morally bankrupt; apparently some visitors didn't read Booble's disclaimer that it isn't linked with any other search engines. So Google's trademark lawyers vowed to "tuck the Booble name back into the softly padded embrace of obscurity" and sent the site a cease and desist letter accusing it of having a domain name "confusingly similar to the famous Google trademark" and improperly copying "the distinctive and proprietary overall look and feel" of Google.

Booble countered Google's request by claiming that its site was a Google parody that "simultaneously brings to mind the original, while also conveying that it is not the original." As parody is a defense to trademark infringement, Booble felt it was in the clear. Google responded, though, that to qualify as a parody under the law, Booble would actually have to satirize or poke fun at Google, which, Google argued, Booble didn't do.

This heated letter exchange stayed out of court, though, depriving us all of a potentially entertaining opinion. Indeed, after the initial intense media coverage, the parties settled quietly. Now Booble is still operating, but with an altered look.

So for now, Google's silence on Gizoogle leads us to believe that we're having good, clean fizzle as we Izzle. It could be that Google doesn't want to call further attention to the site by raising a stizzle. Then again, maybe being mistakenly associated with Izzle isn't nearly as bad for business as being linked with Booble's pornography.

Or perhaps the 28-year-old Gizoogle founder was right when he said that "the people at Google have a pretty good sense of humor." Or at least he hizzles.