EFF takes on trademarkers of term "Urban Homestead"

The Dervaes Family of Pasadena trademarked the terms "Urban Homestead" and Urban Homesteading" and then sent DCMA takedown notices to Google and Facebook, which resulted in the shut down of many Facebook pages. The EFF has stepped in to represent the publisher and authors of the book Urban Homesteading, who have been harmed by the Dervaes' accusations.

Today, the EFF's Corynne McSherry, Intellectual Property Director at EFF, wrote the following commentary:

i-am-an-urban-homesteader.jpgFirst, as explained in more detail in a letter EFF sent today on behalf of three of the targets (Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self-Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, and their publisher, Process Media), the legal claims are baseless. Even assuming the registration is valid - there are reasons to question it -- the term "urban homesteading" is commonly understood to refer to a popular movement and related set of practices. Our clients -- and anyone else -- are free to use it in that descriptive sense, and that is exactly what they did.

Second, this dispute highlights the increased danger of granting rights in descriptive marks such as this one. Time was, the registration of this kind of mark might have had limited impact, because sensible mark-owners would think twice before bringing legal action and, short of such action, most legal users could ignore any improper threats. In the Internet context, however, individuals and organizations rely on service providers to help them communicate with the world (YouTube, Facebook, eBay, Blogger, etc.). A trademark complaint directed to one of those providers can mean a fast and easy takedown given that those service providers usually don't have the resources and/or the inclination to investigate trademark infringement claims. Moreover, because there is no counter-notice procedure, the targets of an improper takedown have no easy way to get their content back up.

Coyne, Knutzen, and Process Media found themselves in just that situation. The Dervaes Institute sent a complaint to Facebook and, as a result, Facebook promptly took down the pages for Coyne and Knutzen's book. When the publisher protested, Facebook politely suggested that the publisher take the matter up with the Institute and get back to Facebook when the matter was resolved. Of course, in most instances, takedown targets will lack the resources to persuade a trademark owner to withdraw a complaint, much less take legal action if necessary. We're glad that Coyne and Knutzen thought to call EFF for help.

We are also glad to see that our clients are not alone in fighting back against the Dervaes Institute's misguided campaign. Today has been declared an Urban Homesteader's Day of Action, itself organized through Facebook, that promises "to blanket the web with the words urban homestead and urban homesteading through blog posts, web pages, and articles." The Dervaes Institute should recognize that this is one community that will not be intimidated, cease its heavy-handed tactics, and take steps to repair the damage it has caused.

Riding the Fences of the "Urban Homestead": Trademark Complaints and Misinformation Lead to Improper Takedowns


OC Weekly: "Dervaes family sends out ridiculous press release claiming they're not trying to shut up urban homesteaders


  1. Fourteen people have been arrested in Southwestern Wisconsin for identifying themselves as “Urban Homesteaders”. In Las Vegas 63 people at an unnamed casino were taken into custody for unauthorized use to the words “That’s Hot*”, while a food manufacturing plant in Ohio is under investigation for dismissing employees who violated company policy. The director of the Human Resources has been taken into custody for having been heard to utter the statement “You’re fired**.”
    President Barak Obama is under federal indictment for using the word “Olympic” without written permission from the International Olympic Committee. And finally 7 year old Rosita Gonzales of Portland, Oregon has been issued a cease and desist order for asking her friends and family to call her “Rosie”. The death sentence has been requested.

    *”That’s Hot” is a registered trademark of Paris Hilton Inc.
    **”You’re Fired” is a registered trademark of Donald Trump Enterprises.
    ***”Olympic” is a registered trademark of the International Olympic Committee.
    ****”Rosie” is a registered trademark of Rosie O’Donnell and unauthorized usage is punishable by death and/or having to give Ms. O’Donnell a bath.

    1. My daughter’s pogo stick makes a sound remarkably similar to the title of a well known “happy mutants” blog. I’d welcome some feedback from the organisers to the effect that they are not feeling litigious…

  2. Cool beans, but there’s something I just don’t understand:

    Moreover, because there is no counter-notice procedure, the targets of an improper takedown have no easy way to get their content back up.

    Huh? The DMCA has a very specific procedure set up for counter-notices, so I’m having difficulty parsing this claim.

    1. The facebook pages weren’t taken down via the DMCA, which covers copyrighted works. They were taken down after the trademark holder complained to the host.

  3. FYI- While running for the office of Mayor, in Portland, Oregon, the leading candidate was served notice from the Sam Adams Brewery to cease and desist from use of their trademark. The letter claimed that the violator could be sued for upwards of 2 million dollars. Candidate Sam Adams stood his ground and insisted upon using his real name. Sam Adams Brewery Inc. was wise enough to see the logic of the situation and backed down. Personally if I were the person Sam Adams I would have enjoyed seeing this situation take it’s course in a court room and made certain the brewery paid all of my legal costs to simply use the name given to me at birth.

  4. I just learned from ngrams.googlelabs.com/graph?content=urban+homesteading that it became a popular term in the 1970s, and was even the name of a HUD program. TMOARYN

  5. There’s a comic post on the institutes blog about plagiarism[1]; I guess they’re trying to claim that the Urban homstead book has copied them. Guess the BBC should sue them as the idea was first aired in the 1975 TV series “the good life” [1]. Pretty sure that predate’s their blog if not their entire movement….

    [1] http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/2011/02/17/what-is-plagiarism/
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Good_Life_(1975_TV_series)

  6. The meta issue for me here… is that the practices and beliefs of “urban homesteading” which MANY of us, (more and more every day) are learning, integrating, teaching and following — and for which we have long and repeatedly used this “rubric” — is in fact, fundamentally PROLETARIAN AND GENEROUS BY NATURE, antithetical to the idea of codifying as property or for profit. In other words, this entire realm BELONGS TO ALL THE PEOPLE, just as should raised beds, penicillin and barn raisings… In as much as those terms serve to help newbies, yuppies, wannabes (and honeybees!) get right with Nature and Food and our Future, the Dervaes shouldn’t interfere with their free use. They should be flattered. Instead they made enmity.

  7. The facebook pages weren’t taken down via the DMCA, which covers copyrighted works. They were taken down after the trademark holder complained to the host.

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    If that’s the case, the summary should probably be corrected, as it says “…and then sent DCMA [sic] takedown notices to Google and Facebook…”

  8. Thanks, Mark, for covering Coyne and Knutsen. I was worried about them when I read last week’s post about the trademark.

    My partner donates to EFF, and Coyne and Knutsen’s work has materially improved our household. I’m glad to see them benefit from EFF.

  9. hrmmm. followed the link the the herbanohmstead.org website

    the comments section is closed, though. wonder what that’s about?

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