by Corin Hirsch
Back when he was an assistant manager at Magic Hat Brewing Co., 7D music editor Dan Bolles and his then colleagues tried to push a fictional Magic Hat #6 on April Fools Day. "The joke was that it was a light version of #9, with one-third fewer calories," writes Bolles. "We even had fake logos made up with the number six mimicking the #9 artwork."
Bolles' prank was eerily prescient. Last week, Magic Hat filed an injunction against a year-old Kentucky craft brewer, defending one of its flagship beers, #9.
The complaint against West Sixth Brewing Company alleges that that brewery's beers, branded with the numeral 6, have a mark that's "confusingly and substantially similar" to #9, a beer Magic Hat has been making since 1995.
West Sixth was founded by four friends in spring 2012. Cofounder Ben Self, who lived in Vermont briefly during Howard Dean's presidential campaign, says his company wasn't trying to imitate Magic Hat. They chose the name because their brewery is located on, well, West Sixth Street. "We worked on it for a long time," he says of the logo, which features a swirly, encircled number 6 next to a star dingbat. It was created by the Lexington company Cricket Press. "From the beginning, we were very comfortable with our logo design," says Self.
Of Magic Hat, Self says, "I did approach them to come to a resolution, and they weren't interested in talking about it."
In a statement, Magic Hat brand manager Ryan Daley says that the company "reached out" to West Sixth last fall with zero desire to pursue a lawsuit. A series of letters dating from September 2012 shows that the two companies (through their respective lawyers) attempted to reach a compromise, which eventually fell apart.
Once Self and his partners learned of the legal action, they brought out the big guns: social media. Yesterday, they posted a treatise on their website that begins "Stop corporate bullying..." and makes a great flourish of the fact that Magic Hat, which was founded in Vermont, is now owned by a foreign company called Cerveceria Costa Rica. Magic Hat is going after West Sixth because of the Kentucky brewery's quick ascension, the post suggests. "Unfortunately, our success has also made us a few enemies. And this week, one of those enemies got so mad, they decided to try and force us out of business by filing a silly and frivolous lawsuit against us." It urges readers to sign a petition asking Magic Hat to back off.
No newbie to social media, Magic Hat took to its own Facebook page to counter what it sees as West Sixth's misleading narrative. "To all of our fans, don’t believe everything you hear," it reads, below a photo of both cans side by side. "We have been talking to them for months about the similarities between our marketing materials. They agreed in principle. Now they’re going back on their word, and ambushing us with a smear campaign."
The dispute has moved from attorneys' letters to blogs and, since yesterday, a few people have attempted to vandalize Magic Hat's Wikipedia page, making reference to its "frivolous" lawsuit against West Sixth. West Sixth's owners have collected 10,000 signatures and are seemingly using their blog to communicate and negotiate with Magic Hat.
And so, episode two of this week's trademark infringement saga inches on...
CORRECTION: The work "copyright" in the last sentence has been changed to "trademark."
Photo from Magic Hat's Facebook page