Copyright © 2017 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
A weathered black square adorned with white filigrees and embellished in curvy familiar type, giving off a whiff of aged alcohol and good old-fashioned southern appeal. Sounds just like a bottle of Jack Daniel’s — or maybe the cover of a top-selling novel at Amazon.com? When Louisville, Ky., resident Patrick Wensink released his third novel, Broken Piano for President, earlier this year through the small indie publisher Lazy Fascist Press, he probably didn’t expect to find himself embroiled in a top-shelf intellectual property infringement matter. The cover of his book is nearly identical to the iconic label on the Jack Daniel’s whiskey bottle: the flourishes curl just like Jack Daniel’s handlebar mustache, and the book itself is labeled “40 percent alcohol by volume” — the same as JD’s traditional proof. In fact, the only major difference between the two is that “Old No. 7″ is replaced by a hamburger, which is central to the novel’s main plot. Wensink also couldn’t have guessed that his book sales would skyrocket when he posted the surprisingly good-natured cease-and-desist letter he received from an attorney for Jack Daniel’s. It quickly became a viral Internet sensation, and the paperback version of Broken Piano for President reached number six on Amazon’s top-sellers list. “We are certainly flattered by your affection for the brand,” wrote Christy Susman, a senior trademark attorney in Jack Daniel’s legal department. The letter explains that she’s charged with protecting the Jack Daniel’s brand and politely asks Wensink, as a “Louisville ‘neighbor’ and fan of the brand,” to change the cover design in future reprints of his book. The letter even offers a reasonable contribution to the cost of changing the design. “By taking this step, you will help us to ensure that the Jack Daniel’s brand will mean as much to future generations as it does today,” Susman wrote at the end of the letter.