Everyone knows by now (at least, if they’ve read Deb Stoller’s first knitting book) that the phrase “stitch and bitch” has been used to describe gatherings of crafters for decades.
What you didn’t all realize is that someone figured out the potentially lucrative side of that phrase long before Deb did.
Sew Fast/Sew Easy, Inc., a New York company, got a US trademark registration for STITCH & BITCH CAFE three years ago, based on claimed use since 1998 in association with “sewing instruction and manuals distributed in connection therewith” and “providing on-line chat rooms for the transmission of messages among computer users concerning sewing via a global computer network.” You can look it up yourself using the US Patent and Trademark Office website; follow the links for trademark searching. The application itself was filed in 2000, which was a couple of years before the resurgence in popularity in the term “stitch and bitch.” (The working title of Deb Stoller’s first book circa 2002 was actually something else. If you do the search, you’ll see a number of trademark applications in Stoller’s name; they haven’t actually be registered yet, they’re still in the application stage.)
SFSE has started flexing its legal muscle. Check out the MetaFilter commentary here.
Here’s the page on the Sew Fast Sew Easy website that perhaps comprises the “online forum.” Actually, it’s a guestbook. Check frequently, because apparently they’ve been deleting posts. Note that this page includes the notation “Stitch and Bitch®” etc., etc. That’s not technically correct, because in fact the US trademark registration includes the word “cafe.” If they have a registration for “Stitch and Bitch” without any extra words or letters, it must be in another country, because I couldn’t find it.
People, get all riled up if you want, but it’s not copyright, okay? Yes, it’s very rare to have an enforceable copyright in a mere title. But this is a trademark issue. You know, brand names, slogans, catch phrases, title-like-things. (Yes, this touches on one of my pet peeves, but at least everyone seems to be spelling “copyright” properly.) Rights to trademarks can actually be parceled out according to the wares and services that are offered by the trademark user. And just because a phrase seems to be common doesn’t mean that it can’t be made the subject of a legitimate trademark.
Do SFSE’s rights extend to the organization of informal groups of knitters that physically gather in various locations to stitch and bitch? Can they claim infringement through the use of a confusingly similar “Stitch and Bitch” when their registered trademark was actually granted for “Stitch & Bitch Cafe”? Did they actually legally “use” their trademark since 1998? All of those are legal questions, and they’re US legal questions in this context, so beyond my proper ken (not that I’d be putting legal opinions up here anyway). Is SFSE doing itself a favour by engaging in this campaign? From the popular opinion, doesn’t sound like it.
Edit 1: a question. If the scenario had played out the other way, and Stoller was attempting to enforce her own trademark rights against a later comer (someone selling something marked “Stitch ‘n Bitch,” not a casual group calling itself a stitch and bitch group), would she incur the same level of rancour? Or, if SFSE in this case had targeted an actual business that was clearly intended to be an ongoing, profitable concern for its owners–say, a knitting store–that had adopted the name “Stitch and Bitch,” would the reaction have been this violent?
Edit 2: another question. Poking around the site I see that the bio for Elissa K (listed registrant of the SFSE domain name) states that “A former instructor at Parsons School of Design, she has developed a new upbeat method of teaching sewing and design. Her method is patented and comes with a workbook that is written to accompany the classes at Sew Fast Sew Easy.” Of course certain words jump out at me, so I bit. But a USPTO search of patents and published applications for “Meyrich” (her last name) turns up nada. (Even if she didn’t own the patent, if she was an inventor her name should turn up in a search. Assuming that Meyrich isn’t a name she assumed later, and assuming that her patent issue after 1976.) Seems likely if there was a patent application, it would have been filed in the US rather than anywhere else; if it had been, it might have been filed back in the day when US patent applications weren’t published until they were granted. If anyone has her book, can they let me know if there’s a reference to a patent or application at all? I’m just curious.
Edit 3: a correction (not by me). SFSE has changed the registered trademark notice on their guestbook page to indicate that the registered trademark rights comprise the word “cafe.”
Edit 4: a further correction. And later on, same day (this is May 11), it’s back to reading “Stitch and Bitch®” which makes me think that the last time they deleted guestbook comments, they uploaded a previous version of the page.