Jack Daniels Sends a Cease-and-Desist Letter That Goes Down Smooth
Its 80 proof Tennessee whiskey might make consumers rowdy, but Jack Daniel’s legal team is apparently as levelheaded and polite as they come.
In mid-July, Patrick Wensink and his publisher, Lazy Fascist Press received a cease-and-desist letter that The Atlantic called “the most polite, encouraging, and empathetic cease-and-desist letter ever to be sent in the history of lawyers and humanity.” Wensink’s book, Broken Piano for President, came out in March sporting a cover that looked awfully familiar. The black background, the white font, the old-time vintage “wanted poster” typeface, even the 40% alcohol by volume mark at the bottom were all seemingly direct imitations of the Jack Daniel’s Old No.7 Whiskey label.
The book itself is a work of satire, as is its cover, but Wensink did not have a license to use the Jack Daniels trademark. Jack Daniel’s Senior Attorney, Christy Susman, realized the infringement and wrote in the letter:
“We are certainly flattered by your affection for the brand, but while we can appreciate the pop culture appeal of Jack Daniel’s, we also have to be diligent to ensure that the Jack Daniel’s trademarks are used correctly…if we allow uses like this one, we run the very real risk that our trademark will be weakened. As a fan of the brand, I’m sure that is not something you intended or would want to see happen. As an author, you can certainly understand our position and the need to contact you. You may even have run into similar problems with your own intellectual property.”
“In order to resolve this matter, because you are both a Louisville ‘neighbor’ and a fan of the brand, we simply request that you change the cover design when the book is re-printed. If you would be willing to change the design sooner than that (including on the digital version), we would be willing to contribute a reasonable amount towards the costs of doing so.”
The Jack Daniel’s trademark is widely used and instantly recognizable, and Wensink thought that it was “very generous” that the company only requested that he change the cover art when the book was reprinted. On Broken Piano for President’s website, Wensink wrote that he and his publisher declined Jack Daniel’s offer to pay for the cover’s redesign, but will redesign nonetheless.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, David Gooder, managing director of the chief trademark counsel for Jack Daniel’s and Brown-Forman, said that the Jack Daniels legal team looks at each of their numerous infringement situations separately. In this case, the team asked itself, “is the author really trying to take advantage of Jack Daniel’s to make money?” Their answer was “probably not.” Gooder also related that whenever Jack Daniel’s uses the approach they did with Wensink, the company almost always elicits a favorable reaction.
When asked why other companies are not as polite as Jack Daniel’s, Gooder replied that bigger companies are overrun with infringements. Therefore, they must take a “tougher line” in order to quell them. Gooder also points to a backlash against intellectual property owners, which prompts the “hard-liners” to employ the more aggressive cease and desist letters that have become popular.
This remarkably civil cease and desist not only got the job done while giving Jack Daniel’s some positive PR, but it acted as free PR for Wensink and his book, too. Now that is what one might call smooth.