After my post on Monday about Pasadena, Calif.-based urban farmer/educator Jules Dervaes’ misguided, ire-inducing, and all-around dumbfounding decision to trademark terms including “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading” and then go after (although not suing) individuals and organizations using terms “belonging” to the Dervaes Institute, many of you chimed in with your thoughts on the matter.
In the comments section of that post you called the actions of Jules Dervaes and his family “an enormous disservice,” “delusional,” “embarrassing,” and “greedy” among other things.
Writes user Irina: “The final goal of Dervaes to get royalties from his trademarks, huge traffic on his websites (benefit from advertising) and finally to fulfill his dream to by lands and accommodate 60 families (he will be a rich landlord) that he will solely control and do what ever he wants. He wants to be like a king in his small kingdom.”
User Stephanie Rodgers, also an MNN contributor, remarks: "I understand their desire to protect their business, to which they have devoted many years of hard labor and innovative thought. It would seem that if they put themselves out there as a non-profit (registered as a tax exempt 508(c)(1)(a) organization i.e. CHURCH), this indicates that they want to benefit the community with their knowledge and actions. But in preventing other people and organizations from using the popular term 'urban homesteading' they're shooting their own cause in the foot.”
Since this is a hot-button issue that many of you feel strongly about, I thought I’d follow up with the latest developments in the Dervaes family trademark mess or UrbanHomesteadGate, if you will.
Since Monday, deemed as Take Back Urban Home-steading(s) Day, the Dervaes family has been relatively quiet, continuing to stand behind their actions which are all detailed in a press release that seemed to just make matters worse. Earlier today, the Dervaes Institute Facebook page went live again after being taken down almost 10 days ago (bold move).
As reported by the LAWeekly on Tuesday, Kelly Coyne and Erik Knudsen, the authors of the 2008 book “Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City," are fighting back. In response to the Dervaes family issuing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take down notice to Google regarding the book, Coyne, Knudsen, and the book's publisher, Process Media, are now being represented by Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) She issued a cease and desist letter to the Dervaes family on Monday.
McSherry tells the LAWeekly that “the first step is to see if they [the Dervaes family] are willing to withdraw their complaint and we'll see how that works out” and further summarizes the situation and the EFF’s involvement on the EFF blog:
First, as explained in more detail in a letter EFF sent today on behalf of three of the targets (Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, and their publisher, Process Media), the legal claims are baseless. Even assuming the registration is valid - there are reasons to question it -- the term "urban homesteading" is commonly understood to refer to a popular movement and related set of practices. Our clients -- and anyone else -- are free to use it in that descriptive sense, and that is exactly what they did.
Second, this dispute highlights the increased danger of granting rights in descriptive marks such as this one. Time was, the registration of this kind of mark might have had limited impact, because sensible mark-owners would think twice before bringing legal action and, short of such action, most legal users could ignore any improper threats. In the Internet context, however, individuals and organizations rely on service providers to help them communicate with the world (YouTube, Facebook, eBay, Blogger, etc.). A trademark complaint directed to one of those providers can mean a fast and easy takedown given that those service providers usually don't have the resources and/or the inclination to investigate trademark infringement claims. Moreover, because there is no counter-notice procedure, the targets of an improper takedown have no easy way to get their content back up.
Coyne, Knutzen, and Process Media found themselves in just that situation. The Dervaes Institute sent a complaint to Facebook and, as a result, Facebook promptly took down the pages for Coyne and Knutzen's book. When the publisher protested, Facebook politely suggested that the publisher take the matter up with the Institute and get back to Facebook when the matter was resolved. Of course, in most instances, takedown targets will lack the resources to persuade a trademark owner to withdraw a complaint, much less take legal action if necessary. We're glad that Coyne and Knutzen thought to call EFF for help.
We are also glad to see that our clients are not alone in fighting back against the Dervaes Institute's misguided campaign. Today has been declared an Urban Homesteader's Day of Action, itself organized through Facebook, that promises "to blanket the web with the words urban homestead and urban homesteading through blog posts, web pages, and articles." The Dervaes Institute should recognize that this is one community that will not be intimidated, cease its heavy-handed tactics, and take steps to repair the damage it has caused.
If you didn’t comment on my initial post this week, I’d still love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Again, I’m more saddened than outraged by the whole thing, really. Although I don’t believe the actions of the Dervaes family will prove to be damaging to the urban agriculture movement in the long run (provided that their claims don’t hold up in court and that they retreat), I do find it unsettling to watch the messy, public unraveling of a once-respected institution. They’ve lost a lot of support (although they claim they still have it) and screwed up big time without any kind of apology.
I’ll continue to track this story as further developments unfold.