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For example, let's say the legal name is Bob Ballad. Can a DBA be registered named Tom's Video Editing? And can a website be created named tomsvideoediting.com with the "About" page showcasing "Tom Thomas", implying that Tom Thomas is the owner of this business (sole proprietorship), even though Tom Thomas doesn't exist?

Of course, when registering the DBA itself and doing taxes and whatnot, the legal, real name is used.

Now, if that DBA of Tom's Video Editing is legally doable, then how far can that Tom Thomas profile go? When clients contact Bob, they'll be greeted by an email account named Tom Thomas who will ask for their requirements and eventually send the deliverable of the edited video. Payments will be sent to a PayPal business account where the Business Name (publicly shown) is Tom Thomas and the hidden, true registered account holder name is Bob Ballad. Even so, the profile picture of Tom's email account shows the picture of a human face that does not exist (and certainly not Bob's).

Note that there are no employee-employer relationships; everything is freelancing and/or contractors. If clients find out that they've been fooled and Tom doesn't exist and they want to fire Bob, that's fine, but can they sue Bob for this?

If all of the above is legally acceptable, then what should the registered DBA be - Tom's Video Editing or Tom Thomas?

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  • Obviously I can run a store called "Toms Hardware" without being Tom. It's a company name. You can run all the public facing communication and accounts in that name, it does not have to be a real persons name. If I start making up a fake person "Tom", that is fraud where I live. But the US laws may differ.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 6:28
  • So what's the difference between running all the public communication in that fake name and making up a fake person? If that website contains a short biography about Tom, is that considered "making up a fake person"?
    – No Name
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 15:09

2 Answers 2

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Bubba Gump Shrimp

Yes - the above example uses two fictional names from the movie Forest Gump.

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  • Yes but, I think your given example is a bit different because people are more likely to think a name like "Tom" is a real/true name. Bubba Gump is obviously fake and do not exist. All communications with clients and stuff will be done using the Tom account as well. Only for the final steps, such as signing a contract or filing taxes, would Bob use the real, legal name. Is that fraud?
    – No Name
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 22:30
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The main issue is whether an ordinary reader would understand the fake person information to be fake, or at least would have no material reason to care.

A detailed biography of a clearly fictional character even if this person is based on a real person to some extent (e.g. Forest Gump, or Colonel Sanders of KFC, or Wendy of Wendy's, or Ronald McDonald) is certainly allowed.

Pen names and stage names are likewise allowed if they don't deceive people in a material way, which they usually don't since readers only interact with a pen named author through their real work product, and since stage names don't conceal the human being using the name (and are similar to an actual name change for all purposes).

The crime procedural TV melodrama "Remington Steele" was an example of an initially permissible trade name persona getting out of hand, crossing over into the improper zone, and then being exploited by a third-party. In this TV series:

Remington Steele's premise is that Laura Holt, a licensed private investigator (Stephanie Zimbalist) opened a detective agency under her own name but found potential clients refused to hire a woman, no matter how qualified. To solve the problem, Laura invents a fictitious male superior she names Remington Steele. Through a series of events in the first episode, "License to Steele", Pierce Brosnan's character, a former thief and con man (whose real name even he proves not to know and is never revealed), assumes the identity of Remington Steele. Behind the scenes, a power struggle ensues between Laura and Steele as to who is really in charge, while the two carry on a casual romantic relationship.

The things that made the trade name improper in that context was that clients relied upon the performance of future personal services by the fictional persona, and personal services are not assignable contractual obligations in that context.

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  • One small point [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonel_Sanders](Harland Sanders) was a real person.
    – Dale M
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 20:11
  • So if a client asks Tom to do a video interview, then obviously he cannot do it because Tom doesn't exist. Bob can of course deny the interview and risk losing the client, but would that be into illegal territory?
    – No Name
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 22:29
  • @DaleM This and Wendy were the point of the based upon a real person caveat. While both characters are based on real people, but personas used for marketing purposes of the businesses are only vague related to the real people. In the same vein there was a real St. Nicholas but the Santa Claus character is only vaguely inspired by him and people know (or should know) that. The Colonel in advertising is often an animated figure.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 22:29
  • @OneCuriousPerson It depends to some extent on whether Tom's interview is in any way material based upon the nature of business, but it is starting to get in troubled territory.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 22:30
  • Ok, I see. But even if Tom was a real person, interviews can still be denied regardless. If Bob denies the interview as Tom, the client will likely simply not hire Tom and go on separate ways. So generally, people won't notice and therefore wouldn't result in any problems right?
    – No Name
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 22:34

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