Response to C&D Letter

This letter serves as my notice to you that I intend to comply with your demand that I cease and desist from using the word “frugalista” on my blog, currently named “JacksonFrugalista.”  I will change the name by Wednesday, September 30, 2009.

I want to make it clear to you, though, I am doing this for one reason only – I don’t want to pay the $600 filing fees required to lodge formal opposition to the relevant trademark applications.  You see, a TRUE “frugalista” shies away from silly expenditures.  The idea of paying $600 to fight for my freedom of online speech ranks as one of the silliest uses of my hard-earned money that I can imagine.

I am sure some part of you understands my revulsion at someone owning a word.  Not a brand name, not a product name, not a service name – not even the ACTUAL name of the mark-holder’s blog – but a simple word.  I’d discuss what our Founding Fathers might have thought of such foolishness, but, heck, for all I know, someone owns those words, too.

So, you win the battle.

But about the war ….

It’s been really, really interesting.  Since I received your “Cease and Desist” letter (attached), I have been in touch with dozens of writers and blogs across the country.  They find the claim of sole ownership of a WORD to be laughable at best, offensive and un-American at worst.  Many wrote to me on how this fight could be fought without spending $600.

(By the way, I’ve corresponded with some others you’ve sent cease and desist letters to – NOT a happy group of people!)

The suggestions have been pretty creative.  For instance, someone recommended creating HUNDREDS of blogs with the word “frugalista” in the title and then advertising the blogs to one and all.  Each blog would have that-word-that-shall-not-be-used in the blog name and a SINGLE POST.

I’ll bet you can figure out what the suggested content of that post was.  It would tell a story of a person who one day decided to trademark a general-use, generic, descriptive-without-holding-secondary-meaning word so she could then threaten the nice people all over the country who wanted to share news of local thrifty-shopping tips with their friends and neighbors online. 

Boy, imagine the loss of goodwill for that word-master.  Goodwill is important for anyone trying to carve out a career in mass media, or who has a book coming out in 2011.  And how much would the attorneys’ fees be for THAT MANY cease and desist letters?

Of course, that was just a suggestion by one of my new online friends.  I didn’t come up with it.

Then there was the person who thought we should bombard the Miami Herald with letters protesting the fundamentally unfair actions by one of their bloggers until that august institution chooses to do a story about mean people who claim to own words.  Of course, those letters would be copied to the US Office of Trademarks and Patents, and probably a bunch of congressmen.

I doubt even THAT strategy would work, but it would get the story out even wider, wouldn’t it?

Again, that’s a suggestion by a local blogger who has about 100,000 people following him on Twitter.  I’d never try it, but if he does … WOW!

My personal preference is for some sort of educational effort.  People need to understand what a “frugalista” is:

  • The word, first used online by “Sweet Gal” in 2000 and in commerce by the Palm Beach Post in 2005 (not January 31, 2008, as the trademark application states) is defined as “a person who is fashionable while being thrifty.”  It’s even on Wikipedia – did they get a cease and desist letter, by the way?
  • A frugalista loves deals, but loves sharing tips about deals even more – the most important characteristic of a frugalista is generosity.  Frugality minus generosity just makes a person cheap.
  • A frugalista knows that “frugal” has many different meanings to many different people and seeks the knowledge that best fits his/her situation.  For example, a frugalista in Jackson, Mississippi, would NEVER, in a million years, look for information on local deals in a Miami-based blog – nor would a Miami frugalista confuse Jackson-specific information about a church rummage sale with the exploits of someone who goes a month without a manicure.

Sorry, I have to pause for a minute.  A month without nail salon services.  WHAT SACRIFICE!  Oh, the humanity!  Makes all that consignment store shopping others do seem almost fanciful in comparison!

  • A frugalista is smart, opinionated, active, and creative.  A frugalista doesn’t back away from a fight just because lawyers are involved, though said frugalista might rely on nontraditional ways of fighting.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a fight for those 25-cent hardback best-sellers at the Goodwill store, or his/her right to share useful information with others who might be hurting in this time of economic downturn and need to know about good deals.
  • Finally, a frugalista isn’t selfish with, rude to, or threatening towards another frugalista – unless the other one started it.

You see, true frugalistadom is a community – a collection of people who seek to make their lives nicer in these days of little coin by losing their pretentions, their hang-ups, and their fears of pretty-darned-cheap shopping.  We CAN express our champagne tastes on beer budgets with a little practice and cooperation.  And we want to see others doing the same thing.

But when a member of our community ceases to be about the “we” and becomes completely about the “me,” say, by threatening to sue people who use THAT WORD in tiny, little blogs meant for tiny, little audiences in tiny, little towns, that person ceases to be a TRUE frugalista.  Instead, that person becomes a façade – a designer imposter, if you will, the very thing frugalistas avoid like the plague.

Well, enough of my philosophical ranting.  Your letter got its desired result, I’m changing the name of my blog.  There’s a limit to how tacky I am willing to be in this, I’m not one of THOSE women (rhymes-with-witch).

But I hear karma is.

Love and kisses,

JacksonFrugalGal

P.S. – In case you are curious, I am keeping the complete text of the pretty-groovy letter I composed when I planned my appeals to the Trademark Office on my soon-to-be-renamed blog (look for it on 10/1/09).  Some pretty good arguments in there, if I say so myself.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, one day, someone who has $600 to spare doesn’t end up checking it out and using it as the basis of an actual filing.  Which would be just awesome!

P.P.S – Forgot to mention.  You know all those other blog authors and online users of the-word-that-shall-not-be-named?  I blind copied them on this email, as well as some other potentially-interested parties.  Isn’t technology grand?

  1. September 18, 2009 at 4:05 pm

    This post is passing around the twittersphere/facebookland this morning. It’s ridiculous but I don’t blame you for not spending money to continue the fight.

  2. September 18, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    She’s being ridiculous and she’s not setting a good example for her readers. Petty litigation is not frugal.

  3. Frugal Gal
    September 18, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    REALLY? Wow!

    I honestly am mainly mad about the whole “owning a word” thing, it’s just wrong.

    My blog is little and once this whole thing blows over, it will go back to being me and my friends and local folks who look at it. And I am completely OK with that. While I was tempted to “die in the ditch” over this, my pragmatic side made the final choice.

    Doesn’t mean we can’t make a lot of people aware of this issue in the process, though. Really — verbal expression in blogs should be closer to how we vocally express ourselves. If people are allowed to trademark generic, descriptive words for online use, can you imagine what that will mean long term?

    Thanks for following and commenting!

  4. September 18, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    Postscript. I was going to be talking about Lazy Man’s Monavie trademark battle on Sunday. I’ll add a note on this.

  5. laheller76
    September 18, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I am sure you’ve done the usual Google search for Frugalista, but this whole thing seems outrageous to me… the word is ALL OVER the place! I think it’d be one thing to claim the title “The Frugalista” but to copyright and own the word itself in all its incantations is absurd. Yours would be “Jackson Frugalista.” Like I found “The Frugalista Gardener” and “Frugalista Moms”…
    Its sad that she has let her little bloggerdom fame go to her head and lose ALL sense of original purpose. It means that her motivations is not a sincere desire to simply give and be helpful, but to make money off of her blogs, advice, etc.

    You’re better than her.

    On Language: Frugalista
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/magazine/23wwln-safire-t.html

    ChicagoNow’s Frugalista:
    http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/frugalista/

    The Frugalista Files
    http://miamiherald.typepad.com/frugalista/

    Tips from Frugalista Moms
    http://www.parents.com/family-life/work-money-politics/family-finances-101/tips-from-the-frugalista-moms/

    Frugalista Gardener
    http://www.frugalistagardener.com/en/

  6. moneymatekate
    September 18, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Sounds like someone wants to “own” the first two pages of a google search. By the way, I love some of the ideas the other bloggers have for handling the situation without blowing $600. I hope they follow through!

  7. Michele
    September 18, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    I’d fight – but then I tend to get all hung up on the principle of the matter. You, on the other hand, will have lower blood pressure!

  8. Mike
    September 21, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I say do not give up the fight, allow the internet to do it’s justice.
    You have made it to Consumerist.com.
    For everyone else here is Natalie of “Frugalista” email address: nmcneal@gmail.com. The internet will tell her what they think of copyrighting a word that has been in use for longer then her copyright.

  9. Jody
    September 21, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Target has been using “frugalista” for a while. Here’s one of their commercials on YouTube:

    I say screw ‘em and don’t stop using it. They need to sue Target before they worry about a lil ole blog in Jackson, Mississippi.

    • September 21, 2009 at 8:41 pm

      I agree w/ @Jody. Target is a much bigger, well, target. Pardon the unintentional pun. I say don’t worry about it. Let ‘em go after a national chain before worrying about you. It’s not like you’re making money off your blog, unlike Target, a company that rakes in millions a day and uses frugalista about 5 or 6 times in their TV ad.

  10. anon
    September 21, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I bet 600 people would each give $1 to pay your filing fees. You can count me in as #1. As someone who USED (note the past tense) to read the fru.galist.a.files, I’m quite disappointed in Natalie. I suspect the ‘fame’ has gone to her head.

    • Frugal Gal
      September 21, 2009 at 7:01 pm

      That’s a wonderful offer, but I feel REALLY WEIRD about that. I can’t tell you why — maybe I don’t want people to believe that my motive in publicizing this whole thing was to create a way to get income out of it. I don’t know.

      The other thing is that it offends me that I (or anyone else) would have to spend money to see their freedom of speech rights secured online.

      To me, the ideal outcome to all of this is that McNeal will realize a) that this whole thing makes her look pretty selfish, and b) that what she SHOULD have trademarked was “Frugalista Files,” the actual name of her blog. I keep hoping she’ll do the right thing.

      Am I completely naive? Probably.

      The best support folks can give this issue is to keep talking about it until someone in a position of influence decides to take it seriously — media, law, government, I don’t know, but SOMEONE. If we quit talking about it, the whole issue will disappear until the next blogger gets threatened.

      If “frugalista” can be trademarked, what else can be? Will there be any words left for the rest of us to use without getting sued?

      • September 21, 2009 at 8:42 pm

        Heck, I’d chip in $10 to help toward the filing fees to help.

  11. Phil
    September 21, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    I just wandered over to Ms. McNeil’s blog and put a few comments up calling her out on this nonsense. They were quickly taken down. Gee, if a LOT of people started doing that…

    Signed,
    The REAL Frugalista!

  12. tfteacher
    September 21, 2009 at 7:31 pm
    • Phil
      September 22, 2009 at 9:43 am

      I am Spartacus!

  13. Gemma
    September 21, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    This is truly a waste! I wasn’t reading her blog before and I won’t be reading it now. Makes me want to start a new blog though about being fashionable and thrifty. Hmmmmmmm.

    • Frugal Gal
      September 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm

      If you call it “________Frugalista,” let me know. I go ahead and send you my cease and desist letter and save you the wait!

  14. Cimpossible
    September 24, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Possibilities:

    1) Call their bluff. Let them litigate the issue. Bet they won’t. If they do, what’s at risk?

    2) There are ads at http://miamiherald.typepad.com/frugalista/. Those sponsors might think twice about giving money to McNeal if they heard from irate users of the word frugalista.

  15. September 26, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    HI Frugal Gal — I am sorry to hear you have given up the good fight, but totally understand you don’t want to pay up to keep the attorneys in business. From what I can tell, your blog does a real service for middle class people (those hurting now) looking for deals. “The Frugalista Fighter” post has silly posts re nails, and fashionista celebrities. Perhaps she should rename it Frivolista… It’s content over style, and you win that battle! (By the way, have you thought about calling your new blog Frug@list@?)

  16. Frugal Gal
    September 26, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Viva, I like your name suggestions, both for me AND our friend in Miami!

    I have been thinking about a bunch of different names — trying to make sure I choose something sufficiently unique that I won’t have this experience again. I will probably put up a poll and let people choose.

    By the way — just because I am changing the name doesn’t mean I am giving up totally! I really believe this was a wrong action by the USTPO and I don’t plan on letting this go entirely! :)

  17. RIck
    November 20, 2009 at 1:17 am

    As best I recall, some clothing designer(?) trademarked the name Montana, then proceeded to raise holy hell with everyone else who already had the word in their product’s name.

    Again, as best I recall, the person was kind of laughed off the face of the Earth – something to do with the state of Montana having already used the word many, many years before this clown trademarked it.

    Due to the hour (of the night) and other work that waits my doing, I can’t easily find and point to the article(s) printed in our local newspaper.

  1. September 22, 2009 at 5:14 am
  2. October 3, 2009 at 10:53 am

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