In Small-Versus-Large Story, Vt. Brewer Wins
10/22/09 5:50PM By Charlotte Albright
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(Host) Last month, the makers of the "Monster" energy drink told the brewers of "Vermonster" beer that the beer's label was a copyright violation.
But with a small-versus-large story, the Morrisville brewer fought back with an army of social media networkers.
And... they... won.
VPR's Charlotte Albright reports.
(Albright) It's late afternoon--tasting time at the non-descript Rock Art brewery on a side street in Morrisville. As a few tourists wander in, size up the t-shirts, and order sample cups of Rock Art's finest, founder, Matt Nadeau recalls how this whole mess began.
He's smiling today, but he wasn't on September 14th, when he got a letter from a law firm representing Hansen Beverages. It reads, in part, "To protect our client's rights, we must insist that you ... immediately cease and desist from any distribution, sale, or other use of Vermonster in connection with beverages."
(Nadeau) "This is serious. What do you mean, cease and desist? I'm not doing anything wrong, so certainly first I was scared, you know, what do you do? So I called up the trademark lawyer that filed my application, that cleared the name originally, and they said, ‘Yeah, there's no problem here.'''
(Albright) That is, no legal problem. But there was, Nadeau's lawyers said, a financial hurdle. To prevail against a well-heeled corporation, he would have to hire an army of expensive lawyers, and that could run his fledgling business into the ground. "Plan B," - register a tamer trademark.
But after Nadeau's wife sent out an email message to friends and customers, the Internet went wild. A college student started a Facebook page. That begat more blogs, and a viral video. The media had a field day. Some stores began to boycott Monster. A few staunch supporters even made along-distance pilgrimage to the brewery. Yesterday, Don Gravatt, an amateur beer maker from Philadelphia, stopped by.
(Gravatt) "Everybody thinks it's insane, it's big business again trying to push down the little guy, and I think it's gonna backfire, it's gonna hit the larger company. Nobody likes big. After Enron, after Madoff, people like small, they like local, I think this is gonna hurt them bigger in the long run."
(Albright) Apparently, the Hansen company has reached a similar conclusion. CEO Rodney Stacks says he's sorry that so many lawyers got involved, and complains that the beer loving bloggers told only one side of the story. Now that he and Nadeau have talked directly, he says, all is well, and each company can move forward.
Rock Art's Nadeau has agreed to avoid adding high energy drink to his line. Monster makes no promises to stay out of the alcohol trade. And while he drinks a virtual toast to his victory, Vermonster's CEO says he feels sorry for the makers of less delicious products who have to face down trademark challenges, without so much help from their customers.
For VPR News, I'm Charlotte Albright.