Ridiculous Legal Battle [Extended]: How I stuck it to The Man while simultaneously chugging a beer
Ok, you’re here because you know about my beer-soaked legal brawl [If not, go here] but only on the surface level. You are what’s known as a smart person (or you just really love me) so you want more info and have come to this story for all the hilarious details. Well I’m happy to oblige, dear smart/loving person. Please enjoy my telling of the tale of Binge Responsibly, LLC (Yayyy!) vs. Power Hour, LLC (Boooo.)
[Note: if you are neither intelligent nor affectionate, feel free to use this link to exit and post snarky comments about me shotgunning a beer for the first time.]
I haven’t ever told this back story on teh internetz because the whole thing is confusing enough on it’s own without adding this enraging layer. The “enraging layer” of which I speak is the fact that I was actually doing business with Steve Roose before he did a complete 180 and attacked me. Steve was selling my Power Hour on his website at the same time he was trying to shut me down! As if you needed more evidence that this guy does stupid things.
My initial relationship with Steve was actually really friendly! Here’s the first email he ever sent me. It was in Dec. of 2008:
My company makes the Power Hour DVD drinking game that just started selling nationwide in stores. We are looking for power hour fans to test it out! Can i send you some for you and your friends?
Just checked out your website. Very cool. I cant believe how musically talented you are as well. I play the piano way back in the day, but I don’t remember anything past the middle c key… my sister has been trying to lear the guitar for a while and its not easy. lol
Let me know if you want to try any co-marketing stuff. Attached a pic if you want to see the face behind the “Beer man” lol I’m in the red shirt on left.
Power Hour LLC
Geez, that doesn’t seem like a douchebag at all! What a sweetheart. I should work with this fellow. He even sent me a picture! Yay!
We did end up working together. I signed a contract to have him put my Power Hour DVD on his ugly site. (I didn’t think it was ugly then but I do now. I have better taste now.) I was making all my DVDs by hand at that point so Steve offered to get them manufactured for me and then send me $1 for each sale. It wasn’t a great deal but I happily took it because I was making and distributing my work on a very small scale. With his deal I only had sales to gain and nothing to lose! So I thought. (That was foreshadowing.)
Steve also offered to help me get into Spencer Gifts and other retailers. Oh wow! What a swell guy! I signed a contract with him saying I would let him take my DVD to stores. The contract also said I wouldn’t be able to contact the stores myself once I gave Steve the right to do it for me. Hooray! I had a salesman on my side helping to manufacture my art and get it out to the world!
Steve sold my DVDs in his hideous (Yeah, I’ve decided it’s hideous now) online store for 9 months. (Did I ever see any money from that? No. But that’s the least of my worries. I’m pretty sure he didn’t sell enough that I should even bother pursuing it but still. Ya know. Another crappy thing he did.) After those 9 months, I emailed him to see how things were going:
Just checking in to see how things are going…..
and to complain haha…..I just found out this week that I got laid off :( Huge bummer. But yeah I think it might be for the best because I’d been working there for 2 years and it’s time I move on. And hey, maybe I’ll end up getting rich and famous from my power hour :)
Oh yeah that’s where you come in. So go ahead and sell millions of copies, k? Haha but no really, how are things coming along? Have you had a chance to show it off to retail stores or anything? Are you still in the process of manufacturing them?
Talk to you soon!
I quoted my email specifically so I could work in some extra pity about how I had just lost my job. So go ahead and feel worse for me.
Steve responded saying he had just started manufacturing another batch of his own DVD and couldn’t justify investing into mine. Oh. Hm. Ok fine. So my hero salesman has turned out to be completely unhelpful. And I’ve signed away my rights to talk to retailers about my own product. I should have gotten a lawyer… Nah. I hear they’re expensive.
Only seven days after I talked to Steve about the status of my sales and told him I’d recently been laid off, he sent me the first of many cease and desist emails:
Dear Ali Spagnola,
I am the owner of Power Hour LLC, a drinking game company. I am the copyright owner of the concept of power hour applications on computer devices and electronics as well as Power Hour DVD format and use. I am also the trademark owner of the term “power hour”.
I am hereby notifying you of our claims and instruct you to immediately terminate the infringement of our claims by seizing activity such as operating a power hour related website, selling/gifting power hour products other power hour related activities. Please confirm that you have acted appropriately and we will not pursue litigation in the courts. We can verify that the products are no longer offered for sale, advertised or hosted on any such websites and no further action will be taken. Should we receive no response, we will continue with our attorneys within 7 days.
Notices of infringement are also being sent to 3rd party services such your webhost, domain registrar, google adwords, etc. Please understand that infringement on such claims can result in hefty fines and given the previous registration of our products prior to your launch date, by law you are also required to pay for our attorney fees for the entire process.
Power Hour LLC
Wait… what? I just… what? Ok wait let me just…
I thought we were working together. Why are you doing this?
Some things have been brought to my attention requiring me to enforce my rights/claims.
– Steve Roose
What are those things?
Unfortunately I can’t disclose those.
Ok he’s acting crazy but I can work this out. We’re all reasonable people. Let’s just talk it about it.
I’m just having trouble understanding your actions. You know my DVDs aren’t selling. Your sales aren’t down due to my product being in the market and I’m pretty sure you’re aware of that. In fact, you know I don’t have any money in general because I just got laid off from my job! Can you help me to understand why you’re doing so we can work this out? You stand to benefit more than me if my DVD does actually start selling so I don’t know why you’d want me to take down my advertising for it.
Hope to hear from you soon,
The power hour market is something I have been establishing since 2009. In order to protect the value of my company and it’s products, actions must be taken against similar products and the use of terms which I have copyrights and trademarks. Other versions and copycats have arrived on the market during the past few years and sales have continued to fall and my brand name and company has suffered. I cannot allow this to continue.
Power Hour LLC
This guy has gone from sending friendly, borderline flirty (I mean, come on! Who sends a self pic in the first email?!) interactions to complete a**hattery in a matter of a week. What?! Keep in mind HE IS STILL SELLING MY DVD ON HIS OWN SITE at this point. And not paying me. He was simultaneously saying, “your product harms my trademark” WHILE he was distributing my product. I, of course, used that as a part of the case against him later. Also, I now realize that Steve just had me sign that contract to “distribute my DVD” so he could stop me from going into retail stores! He wasn’t trying to help me at all! He was destroying his competition in the sleaziest way possible.
Steve then continued to send poorly written and error-full cease and desist letters to me in as many forms as he could; private contact on YouTube, Facebook messages and the contact forms on my website. Steve worked to get my music removed from multiple online distributors and successfully had my DVD taken down from Amazon.
He told me, “I have already shut down 3 other people this month in similar situations. I would recommend getting a lawyer if you want to fight this.” Looking back on that now is especially enraging because he’s basically saying “go open up your bank account because I’m about to drain it and win, beeotch.” (Ok maybe he didn’t call me the B word.)
So, a bunch of other people also had their intellectual property taken down because of Steve. He successfully got many Power Hour websites, programs and YouTube videos removed through sheer power of a**hattitude.
I knew I needed the help of something other than my own music/art brain. Plus my mom was quite sick of saying, “I have no idea, Ali. Stop forwarding me emails.” So, I enlisted the free services of a lawyer friend to help me look at this BS. It turned out that Steve had applied for the trademark but it hadn’t been issued yet! Oh-freakin’-yeah! So if I could pull together an opposition in time, I could submit it before Steve is ever able to claim he owns anything. And that’s exactly what I did.
I started a company and I named it Binge Responsibly, LLC. Hah! Can you believe that name wasn’t taken already?? Then, I had to hire a lawyer that specializes in trademark and copyright law because the case was getting complex and I couldn’t rightfully keep asking my friend to work without compensation. My shiny new lawyer, Bill, helped me write the opposition and we submitted it in time! Splendid. Now we just had to wait for the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to see that “Power Hour” is a generic term and descriptive of the game itself so Steve should not be given the Trademark.
That was when things took a turn for the suck. The TTAB ended up inadvertently issuing the trademark. As in, there was a clerical error and Steve got the trademark even though he wasn’t supposed to. Now that seems like a tiny little thing that for sure could be cleaned up by saying, “Oopsies! Let me just get out my delete key.” But the government doesn’t work that way. Because of this inadvertent issuing – an error that the TTAB noted but could do nothing about – I had to now go through with a full opposition proceeding to get his registered trademark removed as opposed to just submitting a bit of evidence that he shouldn’t get it in the first place.
This meant lots of dollars. Crap. My lawyer predicted it could get as high as $15,000. Yikes. Was I really willing to shell out that much to fight this guy in order to keep playing my concerts and distributing my music? This is a freaking drinking game. What the heck am I doing with my life?
It was around this time that Pete Berg, a lovely gentleman who became my buddy through all of this, emailed to ask if Steve was bullying me. Pete runs a website called Power Hour HQ and he, too, was feeling the wrath of the Roose. We commiserated about receiving poorly worded emails assuming it’s hard to type when you’re an a** wearing a hat. Talking to Pete helped convince me to go through with this absurd fight.
It’s completely unfair that I should have to pay tons of cash for justice. This system is more screwed up than me after a Power Hour. (Lolz.) But I couldn’t just sit back and let this malicious guy win. Steve should not be able to push people around and I had to do something about it.
After I decided to go through with the opposition, I launched a crowdfunding campaign on my own website. I actually tried to do it through Kickstarter but got rejected because they don’t allow raising funds for legal fees. Then, the awesome Pete Berg wrote an awesome article that he put on awesome reddit where it got an AWESOME response.
Seriously, read Pete’s description of what went down because it’s fantastic. Steve Roose does a good job of seeming extra sleazy in that article and Steve even posted inane comments on the page himself! One thing that’s lacking from Pete’s article are the later developments that show Steve as an even more unbelievably sucky human being. Steve went through all of the Power Hour videos on Pete’s site, stole them and put them on his own site. Then he charged people to play them. HE STOLE OTHER PEOPLE’S INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY TO PROFIT FROM IT.
So the internet was mad at Steve. Check out reddit post that got a crazy amount of attention and hit the front page!
Steve shut up after this. The last contact I got from him was in May of 2010 when he emailed me to say, “Please don’t post my personal information like full name, email address or phone numbers. Please make sure all of that is clear from your site.” Please, eh? How polite of you, Steve. I do believe he got a little freaked out by the army of trolls that descended upon him from reddit. I’d like to mention that I never once even came close to inviting anyone to go after Steve nor did I post any contact information about him. But trolls don’t need my help to find contact info. Steve felt the special kind of fury that only an entire internet of Intellectual Property abuse haters can hurl.
Again, I wasn’t – nor am I now – looking for vigilante justice. I didn’t condone all that… but I certainly can’t deny that it makes me smile a whole darn lot. It felt spectacular to have people on my side for this. Plus, I raised over $5,700 to fight Steve! It fell short of my big goal but I didn’t care because people are sweet. The internet is sweet. And I had high hopes that my lawyer and I would end the case speedily.
Speed is not a thing with the government.
Between May of 2010 and the end of 2012, boring, expensive stuff happened. Bill collected information to support our case and then sent me bills. A lot of things called “bill” were happening in my life during that time.
An important note here is that Steve never hired a lawyer. Throughout all of his bullying emails, he constantly threatened how he’s going to have his lawyers come get me. He even made up fake Gmail addresses for himself to email himself and email me so I would get scared of his legal army. He never once hired a lawyer and never once paid a dime through all of this.
May 2010: Successfully file for an opposition to Steve. We enter the Discovery Phase of the opposition and hold the initial discovery conference. (Warning: that site design will make your eyes bleed.)
Nov. 1st 2010: Bill sends Steve a set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production for Documents. Steve is required to answer the questions we send and supply copies of the requested documents within a month. Do what I say, Roose.
Dec. 1st 2010: Zero response from Steve. Because of that, I have to pay my lawyer more money to file a Motion to Compel Discovery. Basically we have to get the court to order Steve to answer our questions and give us the information we need for the case. Ugh. Steve hiding under his bed means I have to pay more money.
Feb. 2011: Bill submits the motion. We shall “compel” Steve to talk! But not before waiting a long friggin’ time. The proceedings are suspended until the motion is decided.
March 25th 2011: The motion to compel is granted. Good. Steve, tell us what you know! You’ve got 30 days or this case is doneski.
April 24th 2011: This is great! Haven’t heard anything from the Roosebag.
April 25th 2011: NOOOOOO! On the very last day possible, Bill gets a big stack of papers from Steve. Now I have to pay for some legal eyes to look at said papers. Steve purposefully keeps prolonging everything as much as possible to drain my money. (Note: His submission is full of incorrect information and general idiocy. Steve contradicts his own statements and argues against himself multiple times during this case.)
July 10th 2011: Steve and I have between now and Aug. 20th to take testimony for the trial. I contemplate calling it quits. But I can’t give up now. I’m not going to throw away all the work and money I’ve put into this so far. Perhaps quitting at this point, or earlier, or even earlier than that would have been the intelligent thing to do but I’m too far into it to think reasonably about the situation, anyway.
Aug. 10th 2011: Steve has responded to no emails. If we don’t hear from him, I get to give testimony alone.
Aug. 18th 2011: Still nothing from Steve. Testimony time! Bill asks me a bunch of questions about my knowledge of the term “power hour” and my interactions with Steve. He even asks, “Have you received support from others in pursuing this opposition?” and, “Please describe this support.” I got to talk about all you awesome people in court! Thanks for being evidence, internet!
Sept. 2011: We submit the testimony and exhibits! What shall we do now? Wait.
Dec. 2011: Time to submit the final Trial Brief. Yay! Then time for more waiting!
Like… a whole lot of waiting. Spent mostly in the form of playing Power Hours.
Dec. 31st 2012: The court finally submits the final ruling on the case. And the verdict? POWER HOUR IS FREEEEEEEEEEE!!!
On the last day of 2012 while having a family dinner for New Year’s eve. I get a call from Bill. WE WON THE CASE! What a momentous moment to get such a moment-y announcement! I was so excited I did like 7 power hours that night. In under 45 minutes!
Bill and I were arguing that the term was “descriptive” as well as “generic”. The court ruled that it was descriptive but not generic. Luckily we only needed one to win the case.
Here is the final court decision document if you care to read about how you should never give up on your dreams of a world where everyone is free to drink 60 shots in 60 minutes. Print it out and set it on a windowsill! It will make your whole house smell like victory.
As I sit here and write this, I was interrupted twice during my work. Once, to get on a Skype interview for a TV segment that’s airing on the day I announce the verdict. I’ve been reaching out to the media to tell the whole world about the good news and I’m incredibly excited about the response. I’m thrilled other people are thrilled about this win!
The second time I was interrupted was an email from a Mr. Steve Roose. Yes! Sir A** of Hatville himself has just emailed me for the first time in over two years. What did he say?
Just wanted to send you a note. I’m not sure if you won the trademark dispute officially, but congrats if you did. I have had several people call me and email about it. I think there is some confusion. My name is Steve Roose, but I’m a realtor, not a Power Hour tycoon. I’m getting sick of the confusion. It’s driving me to drink. I might have to come to your concert some day.
Best of luck.
Now before you go feeling bad for some realtor that has an unfortunate name coincidence, let me give you the following quote from an early email where Steve was explaining the reasons why he hadn’t manufactured my DVD yet or taken it to retail stores:
I just finished my real estate brokers courses and passed the state exam so I plan on focusing all my efforts into a life of investing in rental properties and developing property.
Also, the pictures of “Realtor Steve” online are an exact match with the photo of “Power Hour Steve” he sent me in his first email so long ago. Looks like Stevie doesn’t like who he’s become.
[EDIT: I heard from Steve again three days after writing this.]
I’d like to first thank you for making it this far in my story. Be it actually reading or scrolling to the bottom, I’m appreciative either way. And second, I’d like to invite you to celebrate this awesome victory for intellectual/creative freedom with me on my Power Hour Freedom Victory Tour! I would absolutely love to party with you. Let’s make it happen. POWER HOUR!!!!!!
I’d also like to Power Hour take this Power Hour time to Power Hour say Power Hour as Power Hour much as I Power Hour possibly can. Power Hour. I’m like a kid that wasn’t allowed to have candy and grew up to be a fatty. Power Hour Power Hour Power Hour Power Hour Power Hour.
And the final thing is to send a thank you out to all the people that supported me through all of this. I really do appreciate all the outpouring of awesomeness from the internet. Like, so much awesomeness pouring all over. I still have hot tubs full of awesomeness from three years ago. I appreciate you sticking with me for this long. The whole situation was absurd. And unfair. And absurd. Like seriously, what nonsense did I just take part in? But I don’t regret it for a second.
Now go play some Power Hours, friends. You’re allowed.