When Megalomania Hits an Urban Homestead
A short story of the Dervaes family and the urban homestead movement.
If you follow self-sufficient living or urban homesteading, there is a chance that you have heard of the Dervaes family. You may have even seen them recently in some of their press since they have gotten more popular. The family has basically been documenting their path to self-sufficiency; blogging, asking for donations, seminars, selling their produce, etc. They had a nice thing going. A few bad business choices have recently turned their followers (many in the urban homesteading community) against them.
Now let me explain the downfall as I saw it happen, since I was on Facebook as a fan of their page, when they posted the forever carved in stone status update about getting death threats. This was posted in two locations on their Facebook fan page (one in a comment to the last blog posting they had and two as a new status update to their page). It was also on their Twitter page @urbanhomestead. Many saw this post and rushed to see if they were in some kind of danger.
As I quickly went over to their Facebook fan page (which has since been shut down by the Dervaes family for days now) to see what was going on, I saw many people asking them to comment on recent letters they had sent to other bloggers and editors. I also saw talk of “urban homesteading” fan pages they had shut down via contacting Facebook and claiming a trademark for the term. I learned through these exchanges that they had recently trademarked “urban homestead”, “urban homesteading” and many various other phrases. You can see the list of their trademarks here on trademarkia. I made a couple of comments about trademarks in general. Such as a trademark is only good if it holds up in court. Any good trademark/patent attorney will tell you this by the way. This is exactly why you must do so much research before submitting applications to the USPTO. Anyway, before too long many people were asking for the Dervaes family to explain what was going on and what the death threats were about. After many, many comments to the original “death threat” statement one of the Dervaes daughters made a comment that everyone just needs to stop it and calm down. No explanation to the “death threats” nothing. Very strange coming from someone who had just posted a single sentence status update that they were getting death threats I thought. Eventually the entire Facebook fan page was taken down by the Dervaes family.
A few people continued communicating about the situation on another bloggers site, Crunchy Chicken, who was also part of the “what is going on here?” crazy status update Facebook thing. Soon it was determined that a support group for the people being shut down by the Dervaes family needed to be set up. The Take Back Urban-Homesteading(s) page was set up and wow did it take off! Within just a few hours a thousand people had joined to voice their protest over not only the trademarking of these two very common, very well documented phrases but also the fact that the Dervaes family had begun using this trademark to intimidate other bloggers, editors of books published before they were awarded the trademark, a local library and many others (16 or so I am told Jules Dervaes divulged via phone interview).
There have since been many articles published about this homesteading fall from grace. I will list a few here: OCWeekly, First OCWeekly post, TechDirt, LAWeekly. You can read more in-depth and also see some of the responses from the Dervaes family if you like.
To be honest, at first, I thought they were just misguided and did not understand how to use their trademarks. I kind of felt bad for them even. I thought that they would apologize, contact Facebook to have Denver Urban Homesteading, The Institute of Urban Homesteading and the others reinstated and peace would resume. Unfortunately, I have since seen the opposite by their terrible attempts at damage control over at urbanhomstead.org (sorry not linking to these brats, you will have to type it yourself). It seems very clear to me that greed and megalomania reared its ugly head at the urban homestead. No doubt papa Jules is the ring leader of it all. I have seen many testaments of his egocentricity online now. Most posted by the Dervaes family themselves (very strange). No matter what they do at this point, things will never be what they were. People in the urban homesteading community will never have the same faith in them. A court may decide the validity of their trademarks but their peers have already decided their substance. It’s doesn’t look good for them from where I stand.