I wasn't sure I was going to engage with this fracas, but in the end I feel it's necessary. The Dervaes family of Pasadena, California have apparently trademarked the terms Urban Homestead and Urban Homesteading. They dress up this action as an attempt to protect these terms from use by evil corporations. And yet it is the Dervaeses themselves who are now sending what are in effect cease and desist letters to public libraries, bloggers, and other organizations who have used these terms, even without attempting to profit from them. They have privatized part of the commons and are now wasting no time trying to assert their exclusive legal rights. This despite the fact that there are previously published books, magazines, public service organizations and innumerable blogs that use exactly these words in their titles. At least one of them has already had their page shut down thanks to the Dervaeses.
There are many things I find despicable about these actions of the Dervaes family. Their behavior is exactly what one would expect from an evil corporation. Monsanto, anyone? It would be one thing to trademark these generic terms and then turn them over to the Creative Commons for all non-evil uses. That is not what they are doing. It would be one thing to take these actions and then actively listen to those people who have formerly supported and admired their work. That is not what they have done. Instead they have, one by one, shut down their social media pages and several of the eight websites they maintain. Recent posts on their main blog (I'm not going to link it here.) have closed comments. They didn't like what they were hearing; it didn't support their worldview. So they refuse to listen. This is a family that has solicited donations, boldly and repeatedly, for years. And yet this family of four able-bodied adults somehow manages to find the spare time to trawl the internet looking for people who have "infringed" on their newly acquired legal rights. It sickens me to think of all the monetary donations given in goodwill that are now paying for the Dervaeses to act like a corporate goon squad. Wise people recognize when they have made mistakes, admit them, and correct them. That is not the path the Dervaeses are pursuing.
I was initially only profoundly disappointed with the Dervaeses. Now I'm angry. I have in the past mentioned and linked to the Dervaes family here on my own blog. I can assure you that I will never do so again. I have removed the links that I was able to find. The food production they have managed to accomplish on a tiny amount of land is truly impressive, and by rights it should stand as a shining example of what can be done if one is determined to produce food at home. But this high-handedness over concepts they did not originate and have no moral claim to is unacceptable. They are doing damage to a cause and a way of life that should never be the property of one person, or one family. We need as many people as possible growing food in backyards large and small. That the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" are now legally restricted does no service to that cause, and may indeed mean that fewer people pursue the goal of home food production. That is wrong, whatever the law may say about it.
I'm not on Facebook, but there's a group making an effort to reclaim the term urban homesteading. Check it out if you use Facebook. If you've ever linked to, publicly praised, or financially supported the Dervaes family, I would urge you to weigh in on this matter, either on your own blog, or by sending a message to the Dervaeses. I think it pays to be civil, no matter how much you may disagree with someone, so I recommend you keep it polite. Rudeness and name-calling only make it that much easier for people who disagree with you to dismiss what you say out of hand.
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