Is &

Frequently Asked Questions . . .

About the BDSMblem

Why does the BDSMblem look like a Celtic Triskele (or some other ancient symbol I've seen)?
Initially, because the BDSMblem drew its inspiration from the symbol in the rings worn in the book, The Story of O, which appeared to be described as Celtic Triskele. Furthermore, its resemblance to several other symbols provide it with camouflage. There is no reason for potentially hostile members of the vanilla public to suspect the Emblem's meaning because its similarity to other familiar designs makes it easily pass as just some pretty decoration.

What is the purpose of the BDSMblem?
The BDSMblem is meant to be a way for BDSMers who fear persecution to quietly, discretely, and secretly identify themselves to each other even in a potentially hostile vanilla environment.

What does the BDSMblem symbolize?
You can find a detailed description of the Emblem's symbolism on the page What It Means.

Does it matter if I change the colors or design for my own use?
As is clear from the number of design variations already out there on the Web, there are no "BDSMblem Police" forcing people to remain true to the original and official design. But it does matter, and there is a price to pay for variation. First, and more philosophically, each element of the BDSMblem has a symbolic meaning (see the question above). If you change an element of the design, you remove an element of meaning. The second disadvantage is entirely pragmatic and therefore more important for you who use the BDSMblem for its intended purpose: When you change the design, it may not be the BDSMblem anymore. For example, imagine that you see a person wearing a shirt with what may be the BDSMblem on it. Only the rim and spokes are blue, the inside fields are red, and the holes are yellow dots. Is this a BDSMer wearing the Emblem in the colors of his local BDSM club? Or is it instead a member of the Greater Foosville Celtic Design Society? Or a student of the Han Lee Lipschulz Martial Arts School? How can you possibly know? Well, you can't. It's the general design that allows the BDSMblem to be used as a covert identifier in public, and the details that allow other BDSMers to identify it for what it is. It's a sad fact that right now there are people walking around wearing what they believe are BDSMblem tattoos, but, because they made changes, they are actually wearing the emblem of an Okinawan school of martial arts or the symbol of a style of Buddhist drumming. Make changes at the risk of interfering with its usefulness. For more information, see What is & isn't the BDSMblem.

How about a version for Dom/mes and a version for subs?

On that path lies madness. This is the lesson we learned from the Gay Leather Hanky Code. It was a great idea — hankies of different colors in different pockets to let others know what you're into. It started out simply with a few colors covering the basics. But soon folks were adding variations for their own favorite kinks, until it got to the point where a red hanky with alternating 1/2-inch wide blue stripes and 1/4-inch orange polka dots, hung from the right pocket, corner out, indicated a submissive who wanted to be tied up and tickled with ostrich feathers dipped in turkey gravy by an 50-plus-year-old hairy man dressed as a poultry inspector and speaking in a French accent. Okay, I exaggerate. But just a little. So we were certain that if we do a version for Dom/mes and one for subs, then next would be one for switches. And before long there's the version for women who submit to other women as long as they're redheads in kneeboots but dominate younger bi men through spankings and enforced feminization only, with no sex but lots of whipped cream. So we kept it simple. One design. It means "Hi there, I'm into this too!" Then you can talk to each other if you like and discuss whatever you wish.

Is there a way to wear the BDSMblem to indicate if you are Dom/me or sub?
There's always the old convention of left for Dom/mes and right for subs, which could work well with Emblem rings, pins and earrings. But that isn't part of any set of "BDSMblem rules." F'rinstance, even though I'm a Dom, I choose to wear my Emblem ring on my right hand. I try to keep BDSMblem Usage as rule-free as possible without jeopardizing its usefulness. Not that I can dictate how you wear yours anyway — or that I'd even want to.

What is the difference in meaning between the BDSMblem and the Leather Pride Flag?
Other than the fact that the two look very different and have different symbolic elements, the two symbols both mean almost the same thing. At base, they both mean "Hi There! I'm into BDSM!" The difference is that the Flag is an overt symbol while the Emblem is covert. The Flag is a shout and the Emblem a whisper. The Flag is for the out and proud to declare their interest to the world and the hell with anybody who doesn't approve. The Emblem is a quiet, secret, discrete identifier for those who feel they cannot or should not be out to the public about their BDSM interest. It would be very nice if society improved in tolerance to the point where the Emblem would no longer be necessary for its intended purpose. I'm not holding my breath.

About Copyright Issues

What limits does the copyright put on my using the BDSMblem?
Under copyright law, the holder of a copyright  to a piece of artwork has the exclusive rights to reproduce the work, prepare derivative works based upon the work, distribute copies of the work to the public (whether by sale, rental, lease, or lending), and to display the work publicly. Technically, that means I can do all those things and you can't without my permission. However, I have publically released certain of those rights to a limited degree. In short, I have made the BDSMblem freely available for all non-profit cultural, educational and artistic use within the BDSM community. So if you want to use the Emblem for a cultural, educational or artistic purpose, and you're not making any money from the use, you don't even have to ask my permission — go ahead with my blessing.

Why do you keep your copyright to the BDSMblem?
When Tony DeBlase created the Leather Pride Flag, he released it to the public domain so that anyone could use it for free. (Later note: I've since learned that Tony did not make the Leather Pride Flag public domain. He kept the copyright and licensed use of $1 per year, although he never enforced the fee.) So why haven't I done the same? Primarily because the Emblem fulfills a very different purpose than the Flag (see What is the difference in meaning between the BDSM Emblem and the Leather Pride Flag, above). Since the BDSMblem is intended to be a discrete symbol, and only for BDSMers, there are two things none of us want: 1) for the BDSMblem to turn "cool" start tuning up on T-shirts sold at Sears so that it loses its identification value, and 2) for it to be used in a way that broadcasts its meaning to the world. Among the many requests I've received for permission to use the Emblem, there was one from a couple who were trying to create and market an adult novelty game, and they wanted to use the BDSMblem for BDSM elements. Very Cool! I wish them well on their efforts. But none of us want the symbol to be outed in a game anybody could pick up in Spencer's Gifts. Another fellow wanted permission to use the BDSMblem on the cover of his novel. It looked like a great book and was well received by people in the scene who had read it. His publisher was going to give the book a really big push. I hope it sells zillions and makes him a lot of money. But we do not want the BDSMblem outed in every Barnes & Noble, Borders and Walden Books in the nation. Because I retained the copyright, I was able to block those uses.

Can you copyright a design based on a symbol hundreds of years old?
Yup! Okay, obviously I can't claim copyright to each and every use of the Celtic Triskele. Just like nobody could claim a copyright to a circle. But if you created a design that incorporated a circle in a very specific way, along with other elements, you could copyright that. The BDSMblem uses the Celtic Triskele shape along with other elements of color and design in a unique way. That makes it copyrightable.

Can I use the Emblem on my Web page or in my BDSM organization's publications?
I'd say that falls under non-profit educational, cultural or artistic use. As long as its not a for-profit venture, go ahead. For guidelines on Web page use, see Information for Webmasters.

Can I have a leather worker or jeweler I know make me a BDSMblem item without violating copyright?
The issue here is that making the item is a for-profit effort on the part of the jeweler or leather worker, but not for you. Legally, this requires getting my permission. If this is a one-time product (your jeweler or leather worker is custom-making just the piece you asked for and is not putting others like it up for sale), just write me and ask permission. You'll get it. If the craftsman involved also wants to make more and put them on sale, have him get in touch with me and we'll work something out. (see How can I get permission to use the Emblem on items I make and sell commercially?, below)

Can I make an Emblem item for my own personal use without violating copyright?
If your personal use qualifies as being cultural, educational or artistic, go right ahead. Otherwise, write me for permission first. As long as it's for your own personal use and it's not a commercial venture, I'll say yes. Even if it is a commercial venture, I'll still say yes, but there are some other formalities involved.

I want to wear a BDSMblem as a tattoo. Is that a copyright violation?
I consider that an artistic use. Go right ahead. On the other hand, if your tattoo artist is advertising the design without a license from me (and so far, I have no licensing arrangements with tattoo artists) have him write me at Quagmyr@sagcs.net to get one. That protects us both.

I'm a jeweler/leather worker/some sort of craftsperson. A customer asked me to make them an item with the Emblem. Can I?
As long as the request is customer-driven, and this is a one-time-only product, all you have to do is write me and ask for my formal permission. I'll say yes, no problem. If you're going to want to make more of that item and add it to your regular sales stock, see How can I get permission to use the Emblem on items I make and sell commercially?, below.

Can I produce an Emblem article as a fund-raiser for my non-profit BDSM group?
Probably, but you will need official permission first. Write me and tell me about it. I may have a condition or two in order to protect the BDSMblem, but several groups have asked me for permission to do such a thing and I haven't turned any down yet.

How can I get permission to use the BDSMblem on items I make and sell commercially?
Write me and tell me what you want to do and we'll work out a licensing arrangement. My concerns will be that you're producing a good quality product and that you're using the BDSMblem in the way it was meant to be used, and not in any way that will jeopardize its usefulness to the BDSM community. As long as those concerns are met, licenses are easy to get and virtually free.

About BDSMblem Products

Why don't you offer things like collars?
Those may become available one of these days. However, the first priority is the create products that best allow the BDSMblem to do the job it was created to do — to allow BDSMers to quietly, discretely, and secretely identify themselves to each other even in a potentially hostile vanilla envornment. So the emphasis is on products that can be used in public without raising eyebrows.

How do you determine what products to offer?
I use highly sophisticated market research and carefully designed mathematical formulas . . . . Okay, you can stop rolling on the floor laughing now. Mostly, I read my email and see what folks tell me they want to buy. I weigh that against such questions as "Is this product one that allows the Emblem to do the job it was created to do?" (see above), "Is this something that I think a lot of people will really want?" "How expensive will it be to develop?" "Can I get it done inexpensively enough that I'll be able to offer the finished product at a reasonable price?" and "Will I be able to store the stock without having to move to a bigger house?" Then I try to develop the products in the order that seems to make the most sense at the time — depending on the available development funds and my best guess as to what will be most in demand.

I have a great idea for a BDSMblem product...
Great! Write me and tell me about it!

About the Emblem Project

What is the purpose of The Emblem Project?
The Emblem Project was initially created (long before it had any sort of name) to come up with and produce a pin that could be worn by BDSMers to discretely identify themselves to each other even in a potentially hostile vanilla environment. That story is told on the History page. With that goal met, the Emblem Project today exists to promote the BDSMblem within the BDSM community, to provide products that allow the Emblem to fulfill its purpose, and to make those products available to BDSMers world-wide.

Is the Emblem Project a non-profit organization?
No. I run The Emblem Project through my regular business and pay taxes on whatever profit the Project makes each year. It's been a long time since I bothered calculating how much I "made," but back then it was so far below minimum wage that it made flipping McBurgers look like the fast track to early retirement. The amount is higher today, but it still isn't much.