Cease n' deBitched
May 9, 2005 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Stitch n' Bitch Chicago gets a nastygram. The phrase, the original of which is unknown (to me) refers to the art of getting together with friends for some knitting and chatting. It was popularized by a couple of books and is used by knitting groups the world over. One of those groups, the Chicago SnB, had a Cafepress store selling items with the phrase "stitch 'n bitch." Then the Sew Fast/Sew Easy folks came along and told Cafepress they hold the trademark (reg. #2596818). Cafepress requested that the Chicago SnB remove the phrase from their items. Predictably, this got people all riled up and posting not-so-nice things on SFSE's "Stitch and Bitch Cafe." Those posts were promptly deleted. Now the call is out for free lawyerly help. If any of you IP types want to offer advice, you might join the Chicago SnB Yahoo group. I'm sure they'd appreciate it.
posted by schoolgirl report (28 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So they were assholes about it and now want help? Seems like they got the order of things backwards.

Nice page title, by the way.
posted by fenriq at 4:39 PM on May 9, 2005

No, the people who run the Chicago SnB weren't responsible for the posts on the SFSE board. Probably some overzealous SnB'ers from all over the place. I've been in touch with Brenda, the woman who runs the thing, and she says she had nothing to do with it. She's just trying to keep herself,and other stitch n' bitchers, from getting sued. She's particularly concerned about her domain name.

And thanks.
posted by schoolgirl report at 4:59 PM on May 9, 2005

Thanks for the clarification, the link I missed was the "all riled up" one.
posted by fenriq at 5:15 PM on May 9, 2005

I checked those trademark listings: a search of "stitch n bitch" came up with seven hits, only five of which were active, and are licensed to Deborah Stoller, the author of the books. The other two were actually "bitch'n stitch'n" and were apparel related trademarks for a corporation, but in each case, the trademark had expired.

It seems highly unusual that the govt. would extend two simultaneous copyrights to Stoller and to SewFast/SewEasy.
posted by abbacat at 6:50 PM on May 9, 2005

When you register a trademark, you have to pick a single category in which the mark will be active. It's possible for several companies to own the same name, as long as they're all in different businesses.

Stitch 'N Bitch isn't registered yet, just applied for.

I'm not an attorney, but I think that the mark "Stitch & Bitch Café" is substantially different enough from "Stitch 'n Bitch" that the two wouldn't be mixed up. Sew Easy registered the longer term and it shouldn't entitle them to shorten it to "Stitch & Bitch" any more than they'd be entitled to "Stitch" by itself or "Bitch" by itself.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:16 PM on May 9, 2005

You ask us to add our "stitchin and bitchin!", and when we do, you delete our posts. We were abiding by your rules -- no one was putting up any advertising.

Looks like the last couple of hours' worth of comments at SFSE haven't been deleted yet. How stupid can a web site get? Deleting is the absolute worst thing to do. I did like this, though:

My grandmother was in a Stitch & Bitch club at Sarah Lawrence University in 1938 when she was there, so I don't think you all made up the phrase. If you took something of someone else's and capitalized on it, fine. But don't lie and say it was your idea to begin with. I even have the 1940 yearbook, the year she graduated, and there are pictures of 14 women and the phrase "stitchery and bitchery - the ladies of the stitch and bitch club, mcconley hall."

Holy cow. "Stitch & Bitch" clubs in 1938? Am I silly to be surprised by that? My image of grandmas everywhere has been irrevocably altered.

abbacat, your search missed the "Stitch & Bitch Cafe," trademarked 4 years before Stoller's version. And I think MegoSteve is wrong about the similarity issue; at the very least, I'd hazard that a judge could find either way, but SFSE *was* the first to trademark the already commonly used phrase. Not that I think they're in the right here; far from it. Great post, schoolgirl report.
posted by mediareport at 7:24 PM on May 9, 2005

Drop a stitch, and see ehat can go wrong?!!

My new homepage is now WWW.Bitch.com.
posted by Balisong at 7:46 PM on May 9, 2005

Having read some of the earlier posts that got deleted at SFSE, I can vouch that they were rather polite, given the circumstances, and usually read something like "I had never heard of your site until your lawyers went after the stitch 'n bitch groups. I'm a member of the 'hip' demographic you're targeting, but I'll never buy anything from you because of this!"...

This they found worthy of deletion. Sad, sad, sad.

But mediareport, in their trademark filing, what's crucial is that it's a goods and services filing for, specifically, "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." Sewing, not knitting. Chatroom, not mailing list (which most of the Stoller-based knitting groups are...usually on Yahoo).

It's a service mark, meant to be used in connection with services. And the ampersand is specified as an integral part of the name, unlike the 'n used in the Stoller books. From a copyright perspective, at least what I know of it, they're very different marks.

Stoller filed for her four "Stitch 'n Bitch" marks in relation to

#1 a TV show about knitting
#2 knitting kits
#3 bags & cases
#4 book series re: knitting

a full year ago. I think the SFSE people are just trying to cash in on her enormous success (over a quarter of a million books sold, if I'm remembering correctly), and that they're WAY late to the game.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:55 PM on May 9, 2005

I'll wait to hear from the lawyers, bitter-girl, since I'm not one. I think the point here is that no one should be wanting a lawsuit, and that polite but firm public pressure has gotten more than one company to back down on this kind of thing in the past. Anything we can do to encourage that is the best route to take.

(Btw, you were a bit careless above; trademark and copyright law are two separate things.)
posted by mediareport at 8:13 PM on May 9, 2005

Does anyone have the text of the original cease and decist letter? In its absence, let me present my own hare-brained theory: SFSE is pursuing legal action because the SNB Chicago group is selling Stictch & Bitch logo wear on Cafepress. They claim that this could be potentially confusing to consumers when trying to find Stitch & Bitch Café schwag on the net. Note: this theory is barely based in reality at all.
posted by zsazsa at 8:17 PM on May 9, 2005

Ah, mediareport, you got me on that one. Too late at night, too little coffee...but the point remains the same.

My personal favorite comment throughout the whole thing was that the Chicago s 'n b leaders noted the SFSE people "...were "recently made aware" of the books Debbie Stoller published."

What, have they been hiding under a ROCK?

"Polite but firm public pressure" isn't working so far...not if they're sticking their head in the sand deleting comments. But hopefully a few hundred (thousand, whatever) comments will change their minds. Knitbloggers can be a particularly cantankerous lot... I don't see this dying down anytime soon.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:34 PM on May 9, 2005

Has anyone contacted Debbie Stoller? Seems like she'd be a helpful voice at the table.
posted by VulcanMike at 8:46 PM on May 9, 2005

Looks like the Sewers of Chicago is also taken.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:43 PM on May 9, 2005

ick. I'm trying parse Sew Fast Sew Easy's motivation in this, and it seems like maybe they have been eyeing up the idea of forcing any Stich n Bitch group that wants to have merchandise using those words to buy it from them.

Maybe not... But I can't figure out what they could possibly have to gain by this action otherwise. Unless they are just trying to get their hands on her domain name.

By the way, there is tons of Stitch n' Bitch merchandise from lots of different local Sn'B groups still available at CafePress. Why were none of these targeted? Maybe it is the domain name thing.
posted by taz at 10:04 PM on May 9, 2005

(also, I just have to say, Sn'B Chicago's "Born to Knit" merchandise design is magnifico!)
posted by taz at 10:13 PM on May 9, 2005

It seems strange that the dumb Sew Fast Sew Easy people are even upset- were they even profiting from the S&B Cafe name? It seems like it was just the (badly formatted) chatroom section of their website. And how much of a threat do they think these voluntary groups are? I find it unlikely that the Chicago SnBers are making millions from their Cafepress store.
posted by cushie at 2:43 AM on May 10, 2005

VulcanMike, Brenda from the Chicago SnB is going to get in touch with Debbie Stoller soon, as she would seem to have the most to lose should SFSE proceed to take on all users of the term Stitch n Bitch.

Zsazsa, your theory is spot on. SnB Chicago wasn't, as far as I know, sent a cease and desist directly from SFSE. Rather, Cafepress received a notice that the SnB Chicago store was treading on SFSE's marks, and Cafepress took it from there. Now Brenda would like to continue selling her stuff, and there's also the fear is that SFSE will try to take her stitchnbitch.org domain.

I would agree with bitter-girl, the chance that SFSE just now realized that so many people were using the SnB term is rather laughable.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:15 AM on May 10, 2005

These folks might want to check out Chilling Effects, which is a group of law school clinics (i.e., students working for free with professorial oversight/advice) that specialize in handling/interpreting Cease and Desist orders on the web. They have some useful TM FAQs that might be relevant as well.
posted by louie at 7:10 AM on May 10, 2005

Dunno about 1938, but my mom was regularly using the phrase "stitch 'n' bitch" with her knitting pals at least 25 years ago. I have a feeling many other people were too - unfortunately, they didn't think to go out and trademark the phrase.
posted by soyjoy at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2005

This is just stupid. The crafting/knitting/sewing community, even in a city as large as NYC, is incredibly small and incredibly social. People find a place like Sew Fast, Sew Easy mostly through word of mouth, and this seems like an incredibly effective way to generate bad word of mouth.

Especially in a big, impersonal city like NYC, crafting is about much more than learning to sew -- it's also a celebration of community. SFSE has shot themselves in the foot, and I think they will find it incredibly difficult to dig their way back out.
posted by jennyjenny at 10:26 AM on May 10, 2005

They've deleted ALL the comments from knitters now...even Jenny Hart from Sublime Stitching weighed in this morning, on a one crafty-businessperson to another level and they deleted her! How much good publicity does it take to outweigh this kind of bad publicity? I think that + lawyers' fees = net loss in a big way.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:48 AM on May 10, 2005

Attempting to add new comments doesn't produce the same result as yesterday. Seems pretty clear they've started screening comments, without telling anyone that's what they're doing. It just keeps getting more and more hilarious, the way they're doing all the wrong things.

Sew Fast Sew Easy - we don't give a fuck what you think. Got it. Let the boycott begin.
posted by mediareport at 9:20 PM on May 10, 2005

A trademark dispute involving someone named Stoller! /trademark joke
posted by anathema at 4:13 AM on May 11, 2005

We never used to use "Stitch and Bitch" to describe knitting, but rather sewing.

I'd be interested as well to see the actual text of the C&D.
posted by electricsoup at 8:12 AM on May 11, 2005

The latest from the SFSE folks, who are once again allowing posts to show up immediately on the forum:

Every attack you post, raises the value for the use of our intellectual properties. This forum is used for the exchange of creative ideas, problems and solutions pertaining to fashion sewing, home dec, knitting and crochet. All other use will be removed at our discretion.
Creative People at Sew Fast Sew Easy
- Wednesday, May 11, 2005 at 15:02:13 (EDT)

That first sentence not only makes no sense from a legal standpoint, but also completely ignores the fact that many of the deleted posts were not "attacks" at all. Jenny Hart's comment was perfectly polite and reasonable, even as it asked, "What are you thinking?" and encouraged SFSE to stop causing this kind of inter-needlecraft strife. Seems to me SFSE folks got some bad legal advice and are floundering as they try to figure out how to get out from under the angry reaction sparked by their needlessly aggressive behavior.

Really, not even bothering to discuss things amicably before resorting to a cease and desist is pathetically anti-social behavior - more typical of a multinational conglomerate than a friendly sewing information network. SFSE needs to apologize for that, at the very least.
posted by mediareport at 9:23 PM on May 11, 2005

Want more hilarious needlessly aggressive behavior? One of SFSE's fans started an entire new blog dedicated to bashing me personally and knitters against SFSE in general. Wow, I must be doing something right...

Just wrote a lengthy response to it on my blog if you want links to the whole shebang. I even got called a "blog queen"!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:31 PM on May 12, 2005

Ugh. This whole thing frustrates me to no end. Was the value of enforcing this supposed trademark really so high that it was worth splitting the community on which it depends for business? Was it worth waves of negative disussion online?

Sew Fast/Sew Easy isn't even a memorable name, unless I call it So Crass/So Sleazy. From a publicity perspective, all this does is make Stich & Bitch a more recognizable term.

Small businesses + absolutely no PR sense whatsoever + Internet = disaster.
posted by VulcanMike at 7:51 PM on May 13, 2005

So Crass/So Sleazy!

posted by taz at 3:11 AM on May 14, 2005

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