This is the second of three posts on the Cascadia trademark dispute that consumed BC Craft Beer in fall of 2012. To read the whole thing from the beginning click here
The response to my article yesterday daylighting the whole “Cascadia” situation has been massive. This is an issue that really seems to have resonated with people all over–not just from Vancouver, but from all around the world. In addition to the dozens of comments on my blog here, there have been four threads on Reddit (with almost 200 comments), posts on beer-themed forums like BarTowel and a few discussions on non-beer themed sites here and there. In short, people on the Internet seem to care about this.
Also, Social Media lit up with 100+ retweets and damned near 400 Facebook likes. And yes, this means I now have hugely inflated ego and will be an insufferable ass from here on out. Deal with it.
As well, there were dozens of posts to Steamworks Facebook page. I say “were” because SW established a pretty good program of going in every hour or so and deleting them before finally giving up and disabling their wall entirely. That’s a quality move there, Steamworks.
Perhaps the most important bit of communication, though, was an email to me, authored by Mr. Gershkovitch, received last night titled “Notice of Defamation Action.” Don’t panic; Eli isn’t taking me to court. It’s a joke, and I mention it here because I liked it a lot. That title put me in a great mood. Attached was Steamwork’s reply. I’ve posted it here. Please read it, as the rest of this post won’t make much sense if you don’t.
So let’s talk about this letter. Despite the fact that this looks like something that was written in one go and shipped out quickly, it’s actually a very carefully considered and written piece of propaganda. The spin here is pretty massive, and if you read through it start to end you would be forgiven for forgetting what we were talking about in the first place.
I’m not going to dissect this letter bit by bit; I’ll leave that to the frothing hoards on the Internet, who are already way ahead of me on this one. Instead, I am going to sprinkle a few tidbits of info here to salt this discussion.
First, nice try Steamworks. This letter attempts to deflect a discussion about a trademark dispute into a David vs Goliath battle between the little guy and Molson. I’m not a fan of Molson by any stretch, and I’m even still a little hurt by GIB’s decision to sell out to them. However, that doesn’t mean I’m dumb enough to get distracted with a “but but Molson!” argument. It doesn’t seem like anyone else is either.
Second, the notion that every small brewery instantly rolled over in compliance because they’re just so nice (as opposed to Molson, who are meanies) simply does not jive with what I’ve learnt. Perhaps Steamworks doesn’t think that I might ACTUALLY TALK TO THE BREWERIES, but I have, and while, yes, some are acquiescing to the trademark, some are absolutely not because they think the TM is bullshit.
Third, an offer to license a trademark for $1 sure sounds swell, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, according to BarleyMowat.com’s in-house legal counsel* you can’t just willy nilly sell unrestricted use of your trademark. This is part of the “protect it or lose it” Eli mentioned. If you let people give you $1 to use your term however they want, you may lose that trademark because you’re not protecting it.
Nope, this licensing agreement will almost certainly come with some rather strong restrictions on how you can use the term, because it has to in order to preserve the trademark. And those restrictions have to be spelt out in a document, which needs to be read by a lawyer. The last time I checked, lawyers cost more than one dollar. So we’re right back where we started with small breweries being potentially unable to afford this whole thing, or simply being unwilling to bother with spending time and effort on something that is, afterall, not brewing beer.
Not to mention that a licensing agreement sets up Eli as some sort of King of Cascadia, judiciously bestowing or revoking these rights to those he sees fit. As funny as I think that image is, it’s not a reality that solves this mess. The Grinch Who Stole Cascadia becomes The Grinch Who Still Has Cascadia But Lets You Look At It Once In A While. Maybe. If You’re Nice.
I really wish this $1 licensing solution would work, as I’d happily just write a $56 cheque to Steamworks for all 56 other breweries in BC (including GIB) to be able to use the term “Cascadian” in a beer style without additional restriction forever, and we’d be done with this whole thing. Sadly, that’s not going to happen, as it is a virtually impossibility that Steamworks would ever agree to licensing terms this loose.
UPDATE: For a much more in-depth review of Canadian Trademark Law and how it applies specifically to this case, read this excellent post over at hoplog.
UPDATE 2: The saga continues in part there.
* Yes, we have in-house counsel. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? She mostly spends her time repeatedly explaining “libel” to me, and occasionally informing me that I can not, in fact, sue a brewery for making bad beer. That part still doesn’t seem right to me, though.