Jack Daniel’s: a nice whiskey, a nice company

In a litigious era of courtroom drama and resolutions determined not by mediated settlement but by the decree of a judge, it is a surprise and a breath of fresh air to see somebody take the higher road with gentler hand.

Patrick Wensick (born 1979) is an American author and it would seem an individual with an amusing take on life. From the About of his web site:

Patrick Wensink was born in Deshler, OH in 1979. Since that time he has done a lot of things he is not proud of. But he's also done some pretty interesting stuff. Over the years he has bottled and sold his own line of Wentastic BBQ Sauce, got married in a doughnut shop and even found the time to author a few greeting cards. After wandering from Ohio, to Arizona and Oregon, Wensink and his wife settled in Louisville, KY. He is obsessed with music, movies and barbecue.

His latest novel entitled Broken Piano For President is about a gentleman called Deshler Dean who has invented a hamburger "more addictive than crystal meth", scored a six figure contract for his "terrible art rock band", and seemingly does his best work when he's blackout drunk. It is this last characteristic of the protagonist which led to a book cover that Janis Joplin herself would be proud of. For those not in the know, Ms. Joplin had a penchant for, amongst other whiskeys, Jack Daniels.

Yes, the cover for Mr. Wensink's book bears a more than a passing resemblance to this brand of sour mash Tennessee whiskey apparently the best selling whiskey in the world. Considering his central character is a drinker, this would seem to be an appropriate reference. However this did not go unnoticed by the distillery who, as a cultural icon of the American landscape, felt there is a need to protect its reputation. After all, we can't be diluting the impact of national treasure any more than we should be diluting a fine whiskey.

Booking.com

As such, Jack Daniel's sent Patrick Wensink a cease and desist letter however it has to be one of the friendliest cease and desist letters of all time. While legally they may have had the right to pounce on Wensink, they opted for the gentle hand of good ol' Southern hospitality. This is an excerpt of 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. Given the brand’s popularity, it will probably come as no surprise that we come across designs like this on a regular basis. What may not be so apparent, however, is that 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 over 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. By taking this step, you will help us to ensure that the Jack Daniel’s brand will mean as much to future generations as it does today.”

What does this mean for Jack Daniel's and Wensink?

Instead of looking like the big mean corporate giant, Jack Daniel's kindly demeanor shows the mark of a true gentleman. As Wensink wrote on his own web site: "If it wasn’t signed by some lawyer, I’d imagine ol’ Gentleman Jack penning it himself, twirling his bushy mustache." I would say that anyone hearing of this tale of trademark infringement will walk away impressed by the distillery's classy approach. You don't kill flies with a hammer.

As for Patrick Wensink, one can only assume that any publicity is good publicity and this will further serve to get the word out about his novel. He writes that he will not be taking any money from Jack Daniel's but it is supposed he is complying with the request to change the cover. Wensink says the current books on the shelf will be collector's items

Uploaded by patrickwensink on Feb 14, 2012
YouTube: Broken Piano for President
Ha! A book trailer for the novel. A what trailer? It's just like a movie trailer except it's for a book. (See my blog: Book Trailers)

Final Word
Patrick Wensink has penned an amusing essay about trying to get his novel published. (Getting Published After Six Years Of Failure) He will be able to add this, the friendliest of run-ins with a corporate brand, as another interesting step to getting his book to market. I would hope that if I am ever contacted by the legal department of a firm with a net income (yes, net income) of over a hundred million dollars, they will take a similar friendly approach as opposed to threatening me with legal Armageddon.

References

Wikipedia: Patrick Wensink

Patrick Wensink is an American author (born 1979). His most recent work is a novel entitled Broken Piano for President. The novel received increased publicity when the whiskey company Jack Daniel's sent a politely worded cease-and-desist letter to the author asking that he change the design of his book cover, which closely resembled the label on Jack Daniel's whiskey. His other books include Sex Dungeon for Sale! and Black Hole Blues.

official web site: Patrick Wensink
About: Patrick Wensink was born in Deshler, OH in 1979. Since that time he has done a lot of things he is not proud of. But he's also done some pretty interesting stuff. Over the years he has bottled and sold his own line of Wentastic BBQ Sauce, got married in a doughnut shop and even found the time to author a few greeting cards. After wandering from Ohio, to Arizona and Oregon, Wensink and his wife settled in Louisville, KY. He is obsessed with music, movies and barbecue.

official web site: Broken Piano For President
In 2007, my agent (who is no longer my agent) shopped around an early version of Broken Piano for President. It did not go so well. One editor at Viking went so far as to call the book “nauseating”. Thankfully, Lazy Fascist Press fears no nausea.

Broken Piano For President – Jul 19/2012
The Whiskey Rebellion
This shows the entire cease and desist letter from Jack Daniel's.

Mar. 16, 2012
Getting Published After Six Years Of Failure By Patrick Wensink
I’ve been a failure at every job I’ve ever held. You’re looking at someone who’s been forcibly removed from the premises as a legal assistant, flat-out fired from a children’s museum marketing department, and, once, preemptively quit a job proofing insurance documents in fear of a pink slip. Plus, I’ve been ignored-to-death by more freelance copywriting gigs than I can count.

Postscript
In researching the above story, I ran across the following. It is a separate story but is related in that it is also about a cease and desist letter claiming trademark infringement. However from there things are decidedly different.

The online retailer ThinkGeek, as an April Fool's day joke, launches an ad for a new product "Canned Unicorn Meat" using the slogan "The Other White Meat". The National Pork Board writes a cease and desist letter claiming ThinkGeek is infringing on their slogan.

ThinkGeek – Jun 21/2010
Officially our best-ever cease and desist
Recently we got the best-ever cease and desist letter. We're no stranger to the genre, so what could possibly make this one stand out from the rest?

First, it's 12 pages long and very well-researched (except on one point); it even includes screengrabs of the offending item from our site. And we know they're not messing around because they invested in the best and brightest legal minds.

But what makes this cease and desist so very, very special is that it's for a fake product we launched for April Fool's day.

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