If you didn't read about it in our news roundup this morning, it's likely you've heard the rumblings across the blogosphere, from GOOD to TreeHugger and Facebook: the Dervaes family, founders of urbanhomestead.org, have trademarked the phrases "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" and are requesting (by means of an official notification letter) that bloggers, gardeners, farmers, and food writers properly credit those words with a registered trademark symbol. Not surprisingly, this has many people in an uproar.
Here's a sampling of what I've been reading around the web. (And for the record, I agree that the whole thing is pretty ridiculous.)
• From GOOD:
On February 18, the Dervaes family issued a press release which reiterates their stand, noting that after ten years, their website, //www.urbanhomestead.org is the "largest and most comprehensive Urban Homesteading website." (It may be useful to note here that the site was originally found at PathtoFreedom.com, and used that URL for many years.) But here's the kicker: "The Dervaes family project is known as the Urban Homestead®. While they did not come up with the name Urban Homesteading®, they defined its current, specific application." The statement goes on to use a Wikipedia article (?) to define what they do. And they also devote an entire paragraph to explaining the difference between blogging and journalism (thanks!).
[GOOD reached out to] Knutzen and Coyne who pointed out that this kind of action goes against a key part of the homesteading movement. "Erik and I strongly believe that this movement must be open-source and accessible to all," says Coyne. "Once upon a time we would have learned homesteading skills at our mother's knee, but now we have to teach each other, share what we know, and help each other along. Generosity of spirit is an essential characteristic of the 'modern homesteader'—and I see this spirit everywhere we go."
• From the OCWeekly blog:
[The Dervaes Family] have gone as far as to sanctimoniously lecture the world on their website... since the controversy broke about the intricacies of trademark law to, as they put it, "cut through the mob of misinformation...of course, urban homesteading is 'old' but we used it in a new and unique way and that is what is registered." Actually, no. The Dervaeses aren't just going after people who have ripped off their writings (a perfectly legitimate legal move, mind you) but ANYONE using the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading."
If they could only bury the self-aggrandizing flag and realize that all of us urban homesteaders have something of real value to contribute to the conversation. Each urban homestead is different - different projects, different configurations.. Each person or family faces their own challenges. Most of my urban farmy friends read loads of blogs from all kinds of folks in all kinds of situations. We learn from each other. I'm certain there is room for all of us at the urban homesteading table.
• From TreeHugger:
Part of the confusion stems from wondering why on Earth these terms (and others, including PATH TO FREEDOM™, HOMEGROWN REVOLUTION™, and FREEDOM GARDENS™ would ever be granted trademarks in the first place. After all, they're all fairly common terms that have been used for decades - particularly URBAN HOMESTEADING™ and FREEDOM GARDENS™. What's next? Do people start trademarking phrases like "green grass" or "vegetable garden?" How about "organic garden?" And if someone can trademark one type of lifestyle, such as URBAN HOMESTEADING™, then what about others, such as "suburbanite," "soccer mom," or "heavy drinker?"
The second, and perhaps biggest, source of confusion is why the Dervaes family would trademark these terms in the first place. Why effectively take these words away from the community at large (unless we credit them, of course) when language and labels are such a huge part of what holds a community together? They've said that they did so to protect their intellectual property. As someone who writes for a living, I get that. 100%. There's a special place in Hades for plagiarizers and content scrapers. I just don't understand how trademarking phrases that have been in existence since at least the 1970s (if you're being conservative) and that they didn't invent, protects their intellectual property. If that's the case, I'm so going to trademark "Detroit gardener." I am one, after all. And I am totally unique.
A Facebook page Take Back Urban Homesteading! has also sprung up in response to this. And it certainly doesn't sound like ANYONE is for this idea.
You can read the Dervaes family response to this, as well as a copy of the letter they've reportedly sent out to bloggers, right here.
Tell us: what do you think?
(Image: The Urban Homestead by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, modified according to the new requirements from the Dervaes family, which say that "when discussing general homesteading or other people's projects, they should be referred to using terms such as 'modern homesteading,' 'urban sustainability projects,' or similar descriptions.")