Jack Daniels Issues Nicest Cease-and-Desist Ever

The cover of Patrick Wensink's novel Broken Piano for President bore a striking resemblence to the label of a certain quality Tennessee sour mash whiskey. So, Jack Daniel's' lawyer sent him a nice note.

The cover of Patrick Wensink’s novel Broken Piano for President bore a striking resemblence to the label of a certain quality Tennessee sour mash whiskey. So, Jack Daniel’s’ lawyer sent him a nice note.

Megan  Garber, The Atlantic (“This Cease-and-Desist Letter Should Be the Model for Every Cease-and-Desist Letter“):

Broken Piano for President may be an obvious joke, but it did one thing quite seriously: Its old-timey, straight-from-the-saloon cover art is pretty much a direct rip-off of the iconic label for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey. Jack Daniel’s trademark lawyer, doing her job, realized this bit of infringement — and also realized that the infringement was perpetrated with love, or at least with jest. So she sent Wensink what may well go down as the most polite, encouraging, and empathetic cease-and-desist letter ever to be sent in the history of lawyers and humanity. That lawyer, Christy Susman, even offers to pay for Wensink to change his cover design! Or at least ”to contribute a reasonable amount towards the costs of doing so”!

Would that all matters of IP dispute could be adjudicated with such missives.

If nothing else, this light-handed treatment is garnering plenty of praise for Jack Daniel’s everywhere from Boing Boing to Mashable and Esquire.  Even the author who received the letter is singing their praises.

What follows is, perhaps, the most polite cease and desist ever written. If it wasn’t signed by some lawyer, I’d imagine ol’ Gentleman Jack penning it himself, twirling his bushy mustache.

Then again, not everyone is cheering. Garber commenter “Buckland” observes,

The entire book screams satire. Protecting your trademarks from satire is usually a tough thing to do.

One interpretation is that JD knows they don’t have a chance of pushing the author off it. And in some states threatening letters against satirical works can get you in all kinds of trouble with anti SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws.

Another interpretation is that JD knows they don’t have a chance on this one. But they still want to put up a token defense of the trademark without pissing anybody off.

Maybe. Then again, the book isn’t a satire of Jack Daniel’s whiskey so I’m not sure they have license to ape the trademark.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. KansasMom says:

    Not being a jerk earns you positive coverage? Will wonders never cease!

  2. John Peabody says:

    I agree with KansasMom. Call me a rube, but this letter seems quite reasonable. Aside from the offer to pay for redesign, this seems quite ordinary to my eye. Are things really that bad in the legal world (obviously, my contact with the profession is extremely limited!)?

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @KansasMom: I wonder what Rush will say?

  4. James Joyner says:

    @John Peabody:

    Aside from the offer to pay for redesign, this seems quite ordinary to my eye. Are things really that bad in the legal world (obviously, my contact with the profession is extremely limited!)?

    My evidence is anecdotal but, yes. The offer to pay for the redesign is rather extraordinary, as is allowing the option of continuing to use the trademark without charge for already printed copies. Lawyers tend to start off very harsh in these things to garner rapid compliance.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    This really isn’t all that shocking, at least not to people who work in the legal industry. For every caricature of the asshole, pitbull attorney screaming and shouting and threatening until their faces turn red there are an equal if not greater number of attorneys out there who operate along the same lines as this Susman lady. It’s just that the former tend to wind up on cable TV being interviewed, whereas the latter go about their business in relative anonymity if not total obscurity.

  6. Anderson says:

    A really nice letter would’ve sent enclosed a fifth of Black Jack, just to point out the resemblance.

    But yeah, if your book has nothing to do with Jack Daniels, why copy their label? Weird.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    It’s just good business to lead with a reasonable request, rather than flame-throwing. It depends on the circumstances of course, but clearly that JD attorney knows how to conduct business.

  8. grumpy realist says:

    Some of the “snarl, growl, bark” stuff is not really against the infringer (although if the infringement is really egregious then yeah, it’s a territorial thing) but to lay the groundwork for being able to claim down the line that the trademark has been adequately defended. (See weakened trademark, genericide, defense of laches, etc. etc. and so forth.)

  9. Console says:

    I like how they handled it, but at the same time, copyright laws do snuff out creativity such as the cover art on that book. So I’m not a fan in general of the absurd amount of policing companies do with their IP’s.

  10. As a professional writer and teacher, I have had several of my books plagiarized en toto and did not receive any compensation. Since a book’s research, etc. takes at least a year, I had no income and depended on loans to sustain life, pay the mortgage, and so forth. I am a strong supporter of intellectual property rights and find no problem suing for plagiarism. I agree with Jack Daniels and wish I had had the same attorney in the past, as I would have eaten more than potatoes and fish sticks. Theft is theft and should have been met with a prison term. The author of this alleged satire is lucky, I would not have been as gracious as I know, first-hand, the devastation (financially, emotionally, intellectually, etc) what happens when a creative work is stolen. Plagiarism is first-degree theft and worse, as it kills the author’s spirit;for that reason I have not written a book in four years, and have no plans to research, translate, or contribute again.