James Bertini gets pecked by campaign to clamp down on use of "urban homesteading"

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Attorney/urban-homesteading activist James Bertini didn't even get the cease-and-desist letter the Dervaes Institute sent to other urban-homesteading groups, bloggers and publishers. Instead, he found out on February 14 that Facebook had disabled the page for his year-round, indoor farmers' market (Westword's Best Farmers' Market in 2010) because its name, Denver Urban Homesteading, allegedly violated copyright law.

Turns out the Dervaes family in Pasadena, California, which has incorporated its operations as a church called the Dervaes Institute, headed by urban homesteading minister Jules Dervaies, had trademarked the phrases "urban homesteading" and "urban homestead." They didn't invent the concept -- the grassroots movement that encourages farming in the city has been growing for decades -- but they want to own it.

"If your use of one of these phrases is not to specifically identify products or services from the Dervaes Institute, then it would be proper to use generic terms to replace the registered trademark you are using," states the cease-and-desist letter sent last week to over a dozen entities. "For example, when discussing general homesteading or other people's projects, they should be referred to using terms such as 'modern homesteading,' 'urban sustainability projects,' or similar descriptions."

But Bertini and other urban homesteaders aren't going to give up without a fight. A Facebook page named "Take Back Urban Home-steading(s)" has already attracted over a thousand members. "A group of us across the country who have small businesses involved with urban homesteading and authors of books on this subject are working together to decide how to challenge this situation," says Bertini. "Urban homesteading is a concept that describes city dwellers getting in touch with the soil, learning to garden and raise chickens and teaching their children where food comes from, and the notion that this can be trademarked and that those who discuss it must acknowledge or pay a family church in Pasadena, California, is preposterous."

Our partner paper, the OC Weekly, has been covering the California angle. Click below to read one of Gustavo Arellano's reports on the Dervaes Institute's crackpot campaign.

Fortunately, Bertini no longer has a fight on his hands here at home. His years-long campaign to allow Denver residents to raise chickens in their back yards had ruffled some feathers, and he'd even filed an initiative to change city law to permit at least six. But he reports that a couple of councilpeople on the board are now interested in letting urban homesteaders (those words again!) raise even bigger flocks. If their proposal goes through, Bertini won't have to push for that initiative this fall -- which means he'll have more time to take on the Dervaes Institute and fight that family's attempt two words that definitely belong in the public domain.

Pluck that!

For more stories on the urban homesteading movement here in Denver, including a profile of James Bertini, see our Urbavore's Dilemma archive.

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