Bad Blood On The Home(steading) Front

Is urban homesteading’s reputation of being a crowd-sourced and friendly philosophy for living being capitalized on?

I’ve had homesteading on the brain for the past couple of weeks and not because I’m raising chickens on my azotea (Quick vocab lesson: we live in Spain where azotea is the Andaluz way of saying roofdeck), but because I find things like manscapers, urban chicken sheds and nouveaux communes interesting, relevant, sometimes sexy, counter-culture and quietly revolutionary. Imagine my surprise then, upon discovering that the reputation urban homesteading has enjoyed over the past two decades, of being a crowd-sourced and friendly philosophy for living, is being capitalized, idealistically and literally.

No, all’s not right on the homestead and here’s how it affects the rest of us.

The Nitty Grits

In February of this year, the Dervaes Institute – the nonprofit arm of the family by the same moniker filed for and won the right to exclusively own the rights to the term Urban Homesteading and all of its incarnations under U.S. Trademark law. Armed with their new paperwork, they sent out a series of cease and desist letters to publishers, bloggers, a farmer’s market in Colorado, KCRW-FM, the Santa Monica Public Library, and several web pages. They followed up by asking Facebook to remove all pages and profiles that employed the words “Urban” and “Homesteading” in quick succession without using a big ® and those nasty capital letters I alluded to before.

Many feathers were ruffled, including those of Erik Knutzen and Kelly Coyne, authors of The Urban Homestead: Your Guide to Self Sufficient Living in the Heart of the City, and their publisher Process Media. Both parties are now being represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and have filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office to have the trademarks revoked.

The Dervaes Institute also hurled a rotten egg (that malodorous petition) to James Bertini of Denver Urban Homesteading who subsequently had his Facebook page, along with its 2,000 followers, permanently sheered from the social network. He, too, has filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.

Upon hearing about all the weeding going on, blogger April Alexander started her own Facebook Page, this one called Take Back Urban Homesteading(s), or TBUH. “I saw that this family was trying to own the words that define the urban homesteading movement by trademarking them,” she explained. “And I couldn’t sit idly by and let it happen.”

It has since become a vibrant community with over 7,500 members sharing photos, links, advice – basically doing what homesteaders do. To date, they’re about 2,000 likes shy of the Dervaes’ own Facebook presence.

Guarding the Homestead

The Dervaes’ claim to the phrase stems from their high-profile homesteading efforts, something they’ve been at in Pasadena, CA since the early 1980s. That’s a long time, and they’ve enjoyed their lot in the sun. They run several websites and blogs, were the subject of an award-winning film. Hot damn, they’ve even been on Oprah.

However, April Alexander of TBUH argues that Mother Earth News has been publishing articles on urban homesteading since the 1970’s. Moreover, the Dervaes Institute claims that Jules Dervaes is the founder of the urban homestead movement, which to April and her cohorts is as authentic as a ChemLawn.

“My family has been urban homesteading for generations.  My dad is the grandson of German immigrant farmers and his mother always had a large vegetable garden in the backyard of her Sacramento, California home, so I knew firsthand that the Dervaes family weren’t the creators of urban homesteading.”

Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that it’s not just a matter of which came first, the chicken or the egg, or in this case the blog or the term. It’s the principle behind it all, plus a few legal irregularities that stick out like wild dandelions.

“The trademark the Dervaes family received was for a narrow purpose. Educational services.” But even that’s not enough to hold water, they claim. The term has become too much a part of popular vernacular to be appropriated by any one claimant, and there are bigger considerations to take into account.

“The issue is that this kind of trademark abuse makes free speech on the internet really difficult. A big part of urban homesteading is sharing information and being in communities that discuss it. This abuse of intellectual property law [threatens to] shut down a vibrant discussion online.”

What’s on the horizon?

At the risk of alienating themselves completely from the community that germinated them, the Dervaes’ family has planted its heels steadfastly in the mud. They want that trademark, and for now, they have it.

On team TBUH, in the meantime, it looks like the damage done to the family’s reputation – generous, neo-hippy and inclusive – is irreparable.

Nevertheless, April adds, “The urban homesteading community is very giving and I really believe that if they would be willing to mend fences and be more neighborly” all could be forgiven.

Two emails and phone calls seeking comment from the Dervaes Institute have gone unreturned.

UPDATE: Per the US Trademarks Office, the Dervaes Institute has principal registration on the term Urban Homestead, whereas Urban Homesteading is on the supplemental register. As such the latter does not afford them exclusive use. Crave more details on the nuances of trademark law? Have fun!

Images: Roger H. Goun and ♥ Jaye




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14 thoughts on “Bad Blood On The Home(steading) Front

  1. Pingback: Welcome To My Stop On The “Urban Homestead” Tour! | mamalooma

  2. URBAN HOMESTEADING URBAN HOMESTEADING URBAN HOMESTEADING!!! Sorry couldn’t find the trademark R on my keyboard…. Bullahit will always be bullshit, and bullies will always be bullies. Fight the good fight!

  3. URBAN HOMESTEADING URBAN HOMESTEADING URBAN HOMESTEADING!!! Sorry couldn’t find the trademark R on my keyboard…. Bullahit will always be bullshit, and bullies will always be bullies. Fight the good fight!

  4. April, I will tell you one more time but I doubt it will do any good.  That is the purpose of FAIR USE as the term urban homesteading is descriptive so the Ds can NOT legislate that others  CANNOT use it its primary sense.  However, TM law does have certain restrictions on how others may use it in a book, in a domain name or commercial purposes, all of which come under the Lanham Act and FAIR USE. This is what I said above.  Also, any TM on the supplemental register give the TM owner the right to sue another for infringement, meaning others can NOT use the Ds legal TM for certain things.  April, sorry to say, after I pointed this out this truth  to your husband, that the Ds did NOT back peddle but is what you and others want to believe in the face of the irrefutable proof offered on FB at Urban Homesteading Trademark Controversy.  You at TBUH will continue on with your falsehoods and, for that, I feel very sorry for you.  The truth is not there at your site.  This only proves that you have a personal vendetta towards the Ds and you are making the TM an issue when it is not one under the law.  It hardly changes anything for the average person doing urban homesteading.  For those wanting a commercial venture, there are now certain things to consider, all of which have been addressed at Urban Homesteading Trademark Controversy.  The tone of your comments is indicative of hate towards me for saying the truth.  I do not hate you  as you do me but I really intensely dislike the falsehoods that you continue to spew out of your mouth so vindictively.

  5. Maggie – The Dervaes Institute does NOT have exclusive rights to the term “Urban Homesteading”, so they cannot tell people to not use the term in a domain name, commercial venture, book title, etc.  You are incorrect about the DI being wrongly accused of things about the TM.  Firstly, the DI refuses to communicate with anyone, so we don’t really know what their true position is.  They have back peddled MULTIPLE times, and have denied saying things they stated.  We have no way of verifying who you really are, (although it’s obvious that you’re either one of them or very close to the family, or would like to think you are.)  You are not a reliable spokesperson for them in any way – you’re nobody.  I’m not going to even respond to you anymore, this is the last time.  When you make your inane comments I’m just going to tell people to refer to our page for the TRUE facts.  At one point you had a chance for a real dialogue with the urban homesteading community, but due to your lies and bs we’re done with you.  Adios Maggie.  Good luck mucking about in the steaming piles of horse manure. 

  6. Diga(Mama) The TM issue is only a US Federal TM so it doesn’t affect anyone but those in the US.  Anyone is free to use the term urban homesteading in its primary meaning.  One can say “I love urban homesteading” etc.,  and it would not be a problem as the term itself is descriptive and there is the FAIR USE rule in the US.  However, when referring to the Dervaes Institute’s URBAN HOMESTEADING project one has to use the “R” symbol to denote the Institute’s TM as that is its secondary TM meaning. There are other issues to consider such as use in a domain name if you are NOT Dervaes Institute or if you use it on a commercial venture or on a book title, although you can write a book about urban homesteading..  All this comes under the laws of the US and the Lanham Act plus FAIR USE.  FAIR USE is very complicated. When in doubt, consult an attorney.  The Dervaes Institute has been wrongly accused of things about the TM that was never its position but people imputed things due to a lack of understanding about TM law and rumors.

  7. Hey, thanks everyone for the feedback! This trademark issue impacts not just the urban homesteading community, but pretty much anyone who blogs — or uses the internet for that matter. Great discussion…and Maggie, I implore you, please share more of your point of view. The same goes for all you other homesteaders out there. ;-) u00a0

  8. I wish “Maggie” (probably a member of the Dervaes Family Cult) would learn how to construct a coherent sentence. Maybe then “she” can convince people of her veracity… NOTn

  9. “Maggie,” spreading your distortions here, too? Not enough that you started a pathetic site on FB to parrot the Dervaes Family Cult’s party line?u00a0nnI’ve said before and elsewhere and I’ll say it again–I think you are a member of that family, hiding in the most cowardly fashion behind a pseudonym, trying to confuse and obfusticate matters in the minds of those just finding out about this mendacious action by a greedy family, because you don’t want your real agenda found out. Shameful, “Maggie,” just shameful.

  10. The TM description of the terms at USPTO refers to the DI . The DI has a TM for use in its blog.u00a0 For DUH or anyone else to use it (urban homesteading) outside the parameters of FAIR USE (complicated issue) is an infringement.Generally, using a TM in a domain name is an infringement and causes confusion as to the source.u00a0 Exclusive use is for use in the TM sense (secondary meaning ) and not primary meaning which is another things altogether.u00a0

  11. “The Dervaes Institute also hurled a rotten egg (that malodorousu00a0petition) to James Bertini ofu00a0Denver Urban Homesteadingu00a0who subsequently had his Facebook page, along with its 2,000 followers, permanently sheered from the social network. He, too, has filed a petition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark office.” u00a0The writer makes it clear that James Bertini filed the petition here, so I’m not sure where you’reu00a0extrapolatingu00a0the fact that she said that Dervaes filed the petition. u00a0As for your comment about TBUH “having it wrong” regarding owning the term urban homesteading exclusively, we never said that the DI owned it exclusively. u00a0Interesting comment, seeing as they had FB pull pages with this term in them, when this action should only be taken for words that are exclusively TM’d. u00a0The DI took advantage of FB’s liberal take down policies to be sure. u00a0So, regarding that “secondary meaning”, is that why blogging is listed in the TM descriptions? u00a0Very interesting. u00a0

  12. Great article. I feel you did a good job of capturing the spirit of the situation. It’s unfortunate when others feel it is their right to tellu00a0us what we can and cannot do. Why they thought the rest of us would just sit back and accept this trademark is beyond me. Maybe one of these days, everyone over there will realize we don’t like being pushed around. No one should have a trademark of those terms. They belong to all of us.

  13. TBUH had it wrong and now so do you.u00a0 No one can own the term urban nhomesteading exclusively. Since it is descriptive, there is a primary nmeaning (like what Mother Earth News uses) and secondary TM meaning thatn only the Dervaes can use,. BTW, it was James bertini who filed the npetition, not the Dervaes.u00a0 Bertini was infringing by using the TM in nhis business. Get your facts straight,please.


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