Ok, so before I begin here, I want to say one quick thing: I’m not knocking anybody in the industry who “walks the line” with IP theft. If that’s what you think is best for your business, by all means, continue. I’m certainly not mad at you and honestly, I’ll continue to support you.
The point of this article is to tell you why intellectual property (IP) theft, even minor “parody” stuff, is not the best business practice for my company, FUELED BY HOPS.
So, let’s chat a bit about IP theft and craft beer…
First, IP theft in craft beer is a pretty hot topic right now. To be honest, I have no idea when IP theft really became a thing in craft beer, however, I can say that in recent years, it’s become more and more prevalent.
Now, typically, we don’t see full-blown IP theft, but rather a “parody” of the original property (a practice that we are guilty of doing.) Parody is basically when you use the “likeness” of IP, without using the full piece of the work. A good example here would be somebody using the Disney font, but not the actual word ‘Disney’.
We’ve seen parody pop up everywhere in craft beer. Beer labels, glassware, t-shirts, etc… tons of merchants in the arena have been using parody to move product. And for good reason: it sells.
In my opinion, most people who are doing this as a business practice are likely coming at it more from a fun, “pay homage to something” angle as opposed to a “we want to rip you off and steal your stuff!” angle.
In short, most of the IP theft in craft beer is meant to be in good fun.. at least that’s my opinion and that’s ALWAYS how we, Fueled By Hops, came at it. For instance, I love Chappelle’s Show, which is why we created a line of glasses for the show. It wasn’t to cash in on the show’s popularity, but rather to pay homage to my favorite television show of all time.
With that said, when we began making glasses, we were very, very tiny. I mean, this thing literally started at my coffee table. The very first glass we ever made was a glass devoted to Tyrone Biggums (and it contained a rather embarrassing typo on the back of the glass).
If I remember correctly, the day we put this glass up for sale, we sold like 15 of them. Literally, not lying at all. The glass was a flop because it was a pretty bad rip with terrible artwork. (still embarrassed by it!)
Eventually, we learned a little and ended up hiring an actual designer to make these glasses moving forward. This designer’s name is Rishal, and he’s from the United Arab Emirates. Rishal dreams to one day come to America to be an illustrator, so we were stoked to help support his dream.
The first glass Rishal did for us was the very first Rick James glass, which, again, certainly walks the line between IP Theft and Parody.
This glass was a pretty big hit and I believe we sold about 49 on the first day (which compared to 15 is a HUGE jump).
Now, fast-forward to today, and we are MUCH bigger these days than we were when I was designing glassware at my coffee table. We sell a TON more merch now and have thousands and thousands of followers.
When I finally realized that we weren’t going to be that small, innocent company any more, I had to make a decision: stay small or start making original artwork… I chose the latter.
You can’t scale a business up using other people’s work
We have big plans for Fueled By Hops. I mean BIG, BIG plans for Fueled By Hops.
Did I say BIG PLANS enough times here?
Our plans for FBH moving forward includes a lot of different elements: fun blog, cool events (once COVID ends), sick podcast, lots of great interviews, interacting with awesome brewers, videos, tons of great merch, and, of course our crown jewel… an amazing community.
All of these elements take time to build and also generate a lot of eyes looking at our brand. In order to effectively scale the business to where we want it to go, we can’t have these ‘eyes’ saying “Hey, these guys are just ripping off so-and-so.” or, even worse, giving our brand attention to the wrong folks.
Growing a business while living in daily fear of a cease-and-desist doesn’t seem very fun. And honestly, the energy we would put in to navigating a C&D would be much better served elsewhere in the growth of the company.
Put simply, if you want to grow your business the right way, you MUST use your own stuff.
Ethics: It’s the right, and responsible, thing to do
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that giving up IP-thefty stuff is just simply the right thing to do.
In the days of corporate responsibility being highlighted so much (trust me, I’m a financial planner so I see this stuff daily in large corporations), it’s almost shocking that so many in the industry get away with IP theft.
In today’s society, I see the trend towards corporate responsibility getting bigger and bigger. In fact, corporate responsibility is a HUGE issue with the millennial population.
Don’t believe me? Think about all of your friends and how many of them have stopped supporting a company because their personal values didn’t align with the business’s values. I can name at least 3 or 4 friends off the top of my head who have done this.
Creating original artwork just feels good.
I want to be known as a community, not a glassmaker
This might sound weird, but I really don’t want the Fueled By Hops legacy to be “Hey, those guys make awesome Chappelle’s Show glassware”. I would rather our legacy sound more like “Fueled By Hops is an awesome community of craft beer fans.”
There’s a ton of great glass designers out there, many of which I’m good friends with. I try to support all of them and help them out by sharing their work. These folks are super talented and work super hard to bring you that siiiiiiiick glassware.
But, when people think of FBH, I want them to think of the community, not necessarily the merch (if that makes sense). In our early days, I think we spent a little too much energy pushing merch out there and not enough energy really building the community piece of the brand. Today, I think we’re doing a great job of keeping this group “community-forward”.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re still gonna pump out some great merch… it’ll just all be original artwork.
I want to build merch around the group
Ok, so I call this the “Barstool Effect”. This means I want our merch to resonate well with the FBH community, but nobody else. When you buy our merch, I want it to be stuff that only engaged community members understand.
For me, that just sounds sooooo much more fun than ripping off somebody else’s work.
Take this for example: we create a glass that’s centered around #TIPAThursday and contains a shoutout to Jerry (our most-popular member).
Who else but our community members would understand that glass? Doesn’t that sound so much better than another 2Pac glass?
Our glassware will be influenced by our COMMUNITY, not pop culture, movies, politics, etc. It’ll literally be our own thing!
When you’re wearing a shirt now, I want people to say “what does that mean?” and for you to respond with “It’s a FBH thing, you wouldn’t understand.”
Because the truth is, unless you’re a FBH member, you really wouldn’t understand what we do *shrug emoji*
So, hopefully this shines some light on our decision to move to all original artwork. Again, I know LOTS of craft beer folks use parody as a business practice and I’m certainly not knocking them. I mean, I’m guilty as well!
However, I think moving forward, the best pathway to our goals is to create our own lane in the industry. And that lane can only be built by leaning in to what sets us apart.. and that my friends, is our amazing community.
If you’re not already a part of our Facebook group, you can join us by clicking here.