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Putting the IP in IPA

Would you ever consider putting Bart Simpson on a commercial beer label, let alone a glass and t-shirt, without the permission of the Fox Broadcasting Company? If you are in the least bit business savvy, even without running a business, you would probably say no. Why would you risk the legal whirlwind that could come from a Fed-Ex package bearing the return address of a law firm in New York. The Veil Brewing Company in Richmond, VA is not with you if you chose to pass on this infringing content.

A couple days ago The Veil announced the upcoming release of a collaborative IPA brewed with Other Half Brewing from New York. The name of this brew was Broc Simpson. This was a play off of a series of IPAs that Other Half has brewed using the name broccoli. There is no broccoli in the beer so the whole reasoning for this naming scheme is above my head and probably something that the TTB would have issues with if they ever submitted the labels for approval. It was also a play off the iconic Simpsons character.

While the name alone is not necessarily something that would get the suits involved it was the label art and subsequent glassware and t-shirts that The Veil hawked on social media.

As you can see the design is blatantly Bart Simpson on all three mediums that are intended for sale.

This isn’t new waters for The Veil in the world of jacking intellectual property from other companies. They have previously released a beer with labels that portrayed the characters of, the hit Netflix show, Stranger Things. Not only did this use the likeness of actors without their consent but it is also children being used on an adult beverage. Founders has previously run into issues with the illustrated child on the label of their acclaimed Breakfast Stout.

While many have voiced their concerns to The Veil about these questionable label choices they have gone mostly ignored by the brewery themselves, until now.

It appears that more people than in the past have seen this recent release as a bit too far. They were called out on social media before doubling down on the whole thing referencing Simpson‘s creator Matt Groening’s approval of a Bart Simpson art show that had no prior approval of use. Unfortunately that reply and all original posts about Broc Simpson have been deleted. The beer release itself has been renamed to Special Combo #4 and no companion merchandise will be available. Whether this change was because of public pressure or they did indeed get a quick C&D from Fox’s lawyers is up for speculation.

This topic has been one that has been important to me for some time, having previously written about it. I have done my fair share of design work in the beer industry and feel like I’ve matured a lot from my initial days of design work. Early on it was pretty common to take some design from another company and make a mock up of it in a different fashion. It was a way to get used to design software, learn about fonts and it was just fun. But as time goes on it is far more rewarding to create something of your own not to mention it’s legal. Doing little recreations are fine and all until you start to make money off them.

I look back at a lot of my older designs that were recreations of something iconic and sometimes cringe at them. I can’t believe that I actually made them but also I laugh because they were kind of fun to make. I at no point wanted to put them up for sale as t-shirts, glassware or even on beer labels. That would have been C&D city.

While it might seem like I am jumping on the pile that has formed on The Veil here they are by no means the only ones doing this. They are also not the only ones that get called out for it. There is an Instagram account, IntellectualPooperty, dedicated to calling out such offenses. Their bio is also the inspiration for the title of this article. The Veil were just one of the more higher profile breweries to be doing this stuff. And, surprisingly, they changed course.

My problem is that ultimately designs like this are lazy. Yes, they take a lot of talent to change something and make it different but ultimately it shows far more talent to actually create something from the ground up. Making an edit of an already existing design, character, etc just looks like a short cut. Like I said, I know because I’ve been there. Whoever designed the Broc Simpson character did a pretty good job of editing a Bart Simpson image and making it slightly different in a humorous way but I’d be more impressed with a completely original, from scratch design that is unquestionably yours.

Look at Tired Hands from Ardmore, PA. They consistently have some of the most unique and well designed labels, shirts and glassware out there. And guess what? It’s all original.

Hell, I love The Veil’s logo and their old standard can that they would use for limited releases. It’s uniquely theirs and slick. So I know that they have the talent behind them that can create good stuff.

Of course many people have come to the defense of The Veil with calls of the “fun police” and “snow flakes.” They will call people like me out for backing up a big company like Fox or say that it’s hypocritical when the Simpsons mock other IPs all the time. There will be arguments that it’s parody as well but I just don’t see it. I’m no trademark lawyer or judge but usually parody needs to be bringing to light some sort of social commentary. What is the commentary here? Bart sounds like Broc and you made his head look like broccoli? Yeah, I’m not buying that. But really if you find theft to be fun then I certainly don’t want to be at parties with you, especially if they are at my place.

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