Let us have an object lesson in How Not to Do Things.
The business and goodwill to which I refer in the title is not my business or goodwill – those are both fine. It is, rather, the business and goodwill previously generated by the Dervaes family in Pasadena, CA. I’m not linking to them, now or ever, for reasons that will become clear soon enough. You can do a search and find them easily enough, I imagine. These people – a father and three adult children who all live at home – run a site that used to be called Path to Freedom and that is now apparently called The Modern Urban Homestead (or, as their header seems to suggest, Path to Freedom, with a subtitle of The Modern Urban Homestead). They have been mastering the art of self-promotion and solicitation of donations to their “nonprofit” organization – which is incorporated as a church – for years now.
I stumbled across them a few years ago, checked out the site, blog, and whatnot, and never became a frequent visitor. I never linked to them, either, from my site. I would pop in from time to time, but that number could be counted on one hand in the past two years. The fact is, I found the site to not be terribly useful for practical applications, and heavy on the self-righteousness, aren’t-we-cool meter. I’ve never thought the writing was particularly good, and it certainly isn’t well-proofed before being released. In addition, I always caught a weird, almost cult-like vibe from the site, something echoed by others here and there.
This is not to say it’s strange for adult children to live with their parents. These days, it’s more and more common given the economy and other circumstances. But reading the posts and watching a couple of the videos from the press they’ve managed to attract just made me think more “cult” than “commune”. I give them credit for doing the work necessary to do what they do, for building themselves a brand of sorts, even though they’re not as huge as they’d like to believe, and for the nonstop self-promotion. It takes time and energy to do that. The constant “donate” vibe and/or “purchase stuff from us” I’m not terribly fond of, but if they want to always seem like a fund drive, so be it. It’s their thing.
It also takes time and energy to do incredibly foolish things. In the past several days – while I was working on my own urban homestead (or rural homestead, or, as I like to call it, “the ranch”), apparently the Dervaes, in a serious case of myopia combined with arrogance, began sending out cease and desist letters because they managed to get the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to allow them to trademark the terms “urban homestead” and “urban homesteading”. Now, to hear them tell it, those were not actually c&d letters at all. Oh no: they were “informational notices” designed to tell the recipients just how they should be using these terms, among others, complete with the trademark symbol and acknowledging that they belong to the Dervaes. There is even a helpful suggestion of alternate phrases to use as “generic terms” rather than the very same generic terms people have been using long before the Dervaes family decided they need to suck up to every media tit they could find. Here’s a sample of one of those quaint “informational notices”, sent to Google. Notices were also sent to individual bloggers, a library, a Denver-based community, and others, including to the authors of a book called The Urban Homestead, published before the trademark was even granted, and to Facebook, which instantly pulled down at least four pages, without regard for the validity of the claim. Here’s a tip to the Dervaes family, trying to defend this: you don’t have to use the words “cease and desist” for it to be a cease and desist letter. Here’s another tip: urban homesteading is not your “intellectual property”, as you claim in your silly notice. It is an idea and movement that has been around longer than you have. It will continue to be such.
So what happened? As you might imagine, the community of urban homesteading people didn’t care very much for this strongarm tactic. People began to comment negatively about this on Twitter, on the Dervaes’ Facebook page, and on their site. A new Facebook page sprang into life, garnering (at this point) almost 3500 people who like the page in just over 24 hours. A Twitter feed urging people to dump the Dervaes, and other general Tweets about the issue.. Numerous negative posts have been made in all sorts of places about this incredibly stupid move:
- The OC Weekly, which is all over this
- Crunchy Chicken – the comments make for interesting reading
- Garden Rant
- boingboing and boingboing again
- Grow and Resist
- Natural Life
- Food Renegade
- Pluck and Feather
- Grown in the City
- Institute of Urban Homesteading’s Response – posted on another site because their Facebook page was disabled
- The Bay Citizen, detailing the absurd notice sent to the Institute of Urban Homesteading
- The Beautiful Food Garden
- Sierra Permaculture
- Pasadena Star News
- Farm Curious
- Urban Homestead Diaries
- Walden Effect
- Transition Voice
- Cheryl DeWolfe (added Feb 20, 2011)
- AlterNet article (added Feb 20, 2011)
- Casaubon’s Book (added Feb 20, 2011 – well worth reading)
- techdirt (added Feb 20, 2011)
- Northwest Edible Life (added Feb 21, 2011)
- ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple (added Feb 21, 2011)
- The Itty Bitty Farm in the City (added Feb 21, 2011)
- Preparing Your Family (added Feb 21, 2011)
- Treehugger (added Feb 21, 2011)
- Denver Urban Homesteading (added Feb 21, 2011 – their Facebook page was pulled after the invalid complaint from the Dervaes)
- Granny Miller (added Feb 22, 2011)
- Hello, It’s Me (added Feb 22, 2011)
- Uncle Dutch Farms (added Feb 22, 2011)
After all this negative publicity for their boneheaded move, did the Dervaes see the error of their ways, pull the trademark application, and apologize for pissing off – and pissing on – the very community that made them what they are? Nope. In the spirit of politicians like Sarah Palin, they doubled down and went on the offensive. They posted a series of posts on their own blog whining about how people are misinterpreting their protection of their “unique” version of urban homesteading, whining on Twitter that people should try to see “the truth” and not be taken in by “hoaxes” (hey, you sent out the notices, that’s no hoax), blamed bloggers and rivals for the issues and accused them of not reporting the “facts”, when the “facts” were their own words, claimed to be doing this out of the good of their hearts, by trademarking the phrases before some corporation did – ironic, given that they are a corporation and are acting like one – taking down their facebook page, turning off comments on their blog, taking down the forums on one of their other sites for “database work”, posting strawman arguments about plagiarism as if this has anything to do with trademarks and as if there is no mechanism to deal with copyright infringement, and not replying to questions sent directly to them. They then began weaseling their way around their own words by claiming they were not suing bloggers or sending “stop or pay” notices – and yet in the notice they themselves posted to show what they had been sending out, the legal threat is clearly there, indicated by the boilerplate “we can resolve this without resorting to legal action” phrasing. On their latest blog post, they disingenously link to what they call “news” but which is their own press release, and which represents the ultimate doubling down on this. You can find the press release on Yahoo or via a link in the comments on some of these sites, or you can get to it from the reaction from the OC Weekly, which is worth a read itself.
Let’s examine part of that so-called “news item”:
“No threat was made against anyone’s first amendment rights; yet, there has been a heated argument in the media against what should have been the Dervaeses’ normal rights to protect their trademarks.”
If there is one thing that drives me absolutely bats, it’s people who cannot or will not understand what the First Amendment actually means. Here’s another tip for the socially and legally challenged Dervaes: you cannot make any threats against someone’s right to say what they want based on the First Amendment. You are not the government. The First Amendment was written to prohibit the government from infringing on the rights of people to speak their mind (with certain common sense limits). And amazing as it is, peoples’ ability to speak their minds also allows them to comment on your idiocy in this matter, while you have the ability to cry about it. Isn’t that wonderful?
As it turns out, when you irritate a large group of people, they’re going to go off and start finding out anything they can about you. Like the fact that Jules Dervaes appears to be some kind of end of the world religious type, based on the sites found – and now, mostly removed or redirected to attempt to sanitize history. This would explain that strange cult-like vibe I was getting, after reading through some of these pages via archives. The next tip for you: it’s very, very difficult to completely sanitize your history, and your history speaks volumes. You remind me quite a lot of the guy complaining to us that his name came up in a search as appearing in several posts on a site we host and demanding the removal of those posts and for us to forbid the user from the mere mention of his name. That, of course, was something we certainly were not going to do. I suppose he, and you, should have picked battles more wisely.
As a topper to this ego-fest, Jules Dervaes claims to be the “founder of the urban homestead movement” on his eponymous site. Just because you tell yourself something like that, it does not magically make it true. You are not the “founder” of urban homesteading. You’re someone trying to capitalize on it by engaging in litigious and egregious practices by attempting to trademark common phrases you did not coin, and a movement for which you are no leader, and by trying to shut down other sites you deem as competition. Also, sorry to break this you, but your site was certainly not the “first” ever about urban homesteading.
What has it gained the Dervaes family by trying to strongarm people people, businesses, and organizations with this silly trademark battle over common, generic phrases? Disdain, disgust, and an avalanche of negative publicity from the very base that used to support them. People have already removed their Facebook page from their lists, unfollowed them on Twitter, started a petition to the PTO to revoke the trademarks, removed links to their sites from their link pages/blogrolls, stated they will never donate another cent to their constant fundraising, and publicly refused to purchase another item, whether it’s a shirt or a seed, from them.For my part, now that I have finished my research across their site, I will never visit it again, just like so many other people who have now seen them for what they really are.
You want to know what real community is? You’ve just seen it in action: it is bold, it is swift, it does not forget, it votes with its dollars, and it ensures that searches for your family name or site names will reveal the underhanded nature of this attempted power grab.
I am refusing to use the trademark symbol next to the common phrases urban homestead and urban homesteading. I am refusing to substitute any of the phrases helpfully provided in the nonsensical notice that has been sent out. If you would like to contest this, feel free to send a notice to my web host – oh wait, I AM my own web host, and I’d tell you to pound sand. So, Jules, feel free to try to sue me over use of your so-called trademark. I’d be delighted to pull examples of prior art from those very same Mother Earth News magazines you note on your own site in your fluffed up bio page, which were around long before you decided you were king of the urban homesteading mountain. I’d be just as delighted to collect attorney fees and court costs from you for such frivolous action.