Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who Owns Urban Homesteading?

A warning to all you urbanites who raise chickens in your backyard or engage in extreme gardening; Be careful how you refer to your hobbies. 

According to this story from the L.A. Times, Jules Dervaes of Pasadena has recently trademarked the terms "Urban Homesteading" and "Urban Homestead" -- even though the phrases have been in use for decades.  The Times notes, "[Dervaes] recently has been sending out cease-and-desist letters to those using the phrases, including KCRW's radio show "Good Food" (which had used it in a blog post) and the Santa Monica Public Library, which held a free event on the topic. One book has gotten caught up in Dervaes' campaign: "The Urban Homestead" by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen. The authors, who also live here in L.A., published the book in 2008 and maintain a blog with tips and chronicles of their sustainable-living efforts." 

According to a press release, the Dervaeses argue that "while they did not come up with the name Urban Homesteading®, they defined its current, specific application" -- that is, using "many back-to-basics practices, solar energy and biodiesel in order to reduce their footprint on the earth's resources." It seems that a lot of people disagree with the Dervaes take on things. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has stepped in to represent Coyne and Knutzen (see here) and Facebook groups have sprouted opposing the Dervaes' actions (see here).

Whatever the merits of the claims here, you have to wonder about the legal advice that Dervaes received.  Fighting a library?  Raging against farmer's markets when you're supposedly trying to promote sustainable practices?  In the rush to enforce their property rights, the Dervaes may have done incalcuable damage to their reputation, and undermined the goals they've spent years trying to accomplish.

Steve Clowney

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