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How to Anger Communities and Alienate Bloggers

A week or so ago (maybe 10 days) a long-time bastion of the Urban Homesteading movement — a family based in Pasadena — decided to (pardon the expression) “shit where they eat.”  That is, they trademarked a phrase that is in use by many hundreds (and is revered by many thousands more) of people involved in the urban “back to the land” movement.  This movement has been called Urban Homesteading by many and a book called The Urban Homestead was even published by a completely different couple… and revised in 2010.  In my estimation, they wrote a book and would be the ones to lay claim to the term if anyone is.  That said, this other family who is very big about themselves and claims to be “the original” urban homestead up and decided to trademark the term and subsequently send out (or have their lawyers send out) a bunch of cease and desist letters to bloggers who were using that term in their own blogs.  Here’s what the “Take Back Urban Homesteading(s)” facebook page says:

This page has evolved into an organic expression of the urban homesteading community and our quest for keeping the words which define who we are as a movement and community germane to all of us. In a real way we’re advocating for one another; we’re discussing, networking, organizing for change, creating events, and expanding our vast and original knowledge of urban homesteading. We’re finding new formats in spreading the word that we ARE urban homestead, and that nobody can copyright our identity, which belongs to all of us.

The Derveas family has recently trademarked the terms “Urban Homestead” and “Urban Homesteading.” These terms can no longer be used in facebook page titles, or on blogs or otherwise for profit. If you use the term not for profit you must use the trademark symbol and “specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute.” They add that it would be “proper to use generic e=terms such as “modern homesteading.” They have had facebook pages with the terms Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading in the name shut down without notifying those pages first. Please join this group to show that UH is not a brand or company, but a grassroots community and lifestyle.

The Derveas have been doing their own thing in Pasadena for a number of years.  I’m not sure where they got the money originally for their house (which is gorgeous) on such a large lot, but it’s paid-off and the whole family lives there together; old man (who owns the house) and grown children (son, two daughters) in their 30s (I’d say).  They make money mostly by selling their excess produce and eggs to local restaurants and residents from their front porch.  There’s lots of information about them.  My impression of them is that they’re a little smug.  Or a lot.  (Watch the KCAL 9 clip that was done on them a few years back and tell me if your impression is any different.)

SO… it’s not totally surprising to me that of any long-standing member of the UH community, they would be the ones to drop a load on their own dinner table.  It’s the sort of thing that people who are out of touch with the broader movement and context of something they’re merely a part of, would do.  Do you think Scott and Helen Nearing would ever have tried to trademark “Back tot he Land”… no.  It defeats the purpose of what they were trying to do by spreading the idea of this sort of lifestyle.  Here’s what Trademark Law is for (source):

The purpose of trademark law is twofold:  first, it is to aid the consumer in differentiating among competing products and second, it is to protect the producer’s investment in reputation.

Looking at this debacle, do we think the Devreas family was trying to be helpful to “consumers” looking for information about Urban Homesteading as opposed to… oh, say, urban hunting?  Probably not.  What about protecting their investment in their reputation?  For the second question, let’s ask ourselves if they’ve significantly benefited from this particular differentiation.  I’d say the shitstorm they’ve started says it all.  They misused Trademark Law and are now paying the price.

:: slow clap ::  Nice job Derveas family.  :: slow clap ::

I unsubscribed from their blog.  I will no longer be giving them my attention.  Instead, I’m refocusing on people who are doing things with the spirit of Urban Homesteading(s) in mind (and heart). Check out my blogroll on the right for a list of blogs to care about: the Homegrown Evolution folks (now, Root Simple), the Ramshackle Solid folks, the Yome Sweet Yome folks, the Holy Scrap Hotsprings folks, the Bastish folks, the Green Roof Growers folks, and many more.  I’ll be adding to this list over the next few days.





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  1. July 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Wow that is really low. When I read the first few sentences I thought this was going to be a post about humanure. I hope their crops fail!

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