February 21, 2011

I'm A (sub) Urban Homesteader

Today, Monday, has been declared action day by the newly formed Facebook group "Take Back Urban Home-steading(s)".

For an quick intro into what's going on I recommend Crunchy Chicken's post from last week, which was the first place I read about this controversy.

My first reaction was to look a little deeper and make sure all this was real (although I do trust Crunchy Chicken) because haven't we all read something online which, when we looked into it, turned out to be kind of different from reality. After all, the internet often operates as one giant game of telephone, with reality being massaged and misinterpreted with every iteration. So I read all the Dervaes' blog posts on this subject because, as they said in their Feb 17th blog post Who Owns These Trademarks?: "Know the facts before you react!"... And I agree with that statement. 

However, after having read all their posts, I think they're missing the point. I don't think people are upset because they trademarked these terms per se. Nor is it worth arguing over whether they did or did not threaten various websites with lawsuits. They say they didn't and I'll take their word for it. The essence of the thing people are mad about is this one line in their Feb 16. blog post where they publish the "normal, professional, and informative" letter they sent out:
"If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using."
They go on to explain that this means when you're not referring to their urban homestead you should use a synonym when referring to your urban homestead. So to use their examples, you can describe what you do as "modern homesteading," or refer to your work as "urban sustainability projects". Urban and homestead can no longer be used in conjunction to describe anyone's life, work, or projects unless you give them trademark credit for owning the term.

I can get behind owning the name of a business or product so that no one else can use it as their business or product name. And of course under no circumstances should people take the Dervaes' text, video, artwork, etc. and claim it as their own. Apparently this is something they've had trouble with:

"We (and anyone else for that matter) do draw the line at the unauthorized use of our logos, pictures, phrases and original ideas (i.e. the 10 Elements of Urban Homesteading), and blatant ‘cut and paste’ entire portions of our website for profit and personal gain.  You cannot use any information without permission from our website (or any other website) in a book without prior written consent.
These previous (and continuing) plagiarism behavior and total disregard for our urban homesteading work forced us to register trademarks to protect our intellectual property and life work."

But to suggest that on blogs and websites people in urban areas can no longer describe their homesteads as urban is ridiculous.

So after doing exactly what the Dervaes' requested - reading their side of the story taking it as truth - I still think they're wrong. Their trademarks may be perfectly legal and as I said, I think there are reasons to have them, but people are mad because the way they've chosen to apply their trademark control is unethical.

For more, here is an excellent blog post from The Urban Homestead Experiment, one of the 16 recipients of the Dervaes' letter.

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