Who Owns Fire Cider? Company trademarks traditional beverage
The phrase “fire cider” – traditionally used to describe a spicy elixir used to cure ailments from common colds to killer hangovers – is now trademarked by a Shire City Herbals. Many in the holistic health world are up in arms, as they consider the phrase “common language.”
Now that they’re trademarked, homeopaths may have to strike the words “fire cider” from their websites, blogs and books, and the online marketplace Etsy.com is removing all products containing the phrase in their titles or descriptions.
A typical fire cider recipe consists of ginger root, horseradish root, onion, garlic, jalapeno and lemon submerged in apple cider vinegar. The concoction is stored in a mason jar in a cool place for up to a month. After that, you strain the solids, and you’re left with a powerful tonic that’s supposed to “burn” a cold right out of you.
The term “fire cider” has been around at least since Rosemary Gladstar coined it in her published books and writings in the 1970’s (but probably longer). Many claim she is the rightful owner of the term, but never trademarked it because natural healers believe holistic health is something to be shared, not owned.
Holistic health proponents have created a Facebook page to garner support for preserving the original, generic meaning of the term “fire cider.” They’re petitioning against the trademark and boycotting Shire City Herbals’ Fire Cider.
Opponents of the trademark argue it will corporatize herbal medicine – which has been freely available to people for thousands of years – and open the door to pharmaceutical companies patenting foods, herbs, vitamins, minerals and other substances they did not create.
Who owns ideas?
Trademarks, patents, and copyrights are intellectual property laws that allow people or companies to own ideas. A trademark is the ownership of a word or phrase used to identify a good or service for sale, to differentiate it from other goods and services for sale.
Should ideas be considered property?
As a libertarian, I’m a big fan of property rights. But, in my eyes, the only property one can own is tangible – physical things like land, houses, food that one produced or bought, and one’s own body. Shire City Herbals is claiming to own a phrase… a phrase it didn’t even come up with.
And by saying it owns the conjunction of the two unoriginal words “fire” and “cider,” Shire City Herbals is violating my freedom of speech… and the freedom of speech of anyone else brewing, selling or writing about this traditional mixture of ingredients. How can we say we have freedom of speech when companies are allowed to monopolize certain words and phrases?
non-aggression principle? Herbalists and naturopaths aren’t threatening Shire City Herbals with violence or force of any kind when they use this common phrase to describe the beverage many of them have been brewing for close to forty years.
Shire City Herbals can say it owns its bottles and their contents, because they are tangible and can be stolen, but it’s silly to say a blogger or herbalist stole two words from them that have been used for decades.
How can a company claim to own a phrase its owner admits she copied from other herbalists – and then sue someone else for “copying” it? There’s a big difference between stealing and copying. Just imagine how many lawsuits would be filed if whomever “invented” the word hamburger decided to sue everyone for IP infringement. It’s bad enough companies can trademark unique words like Pepsi or Kraft or Tabasco. Just imagine if they were allowed to trademark common phrases like “soda pop,” “macaroni and cheese,” or “hot sauce.”
That is exactly what Shire City Herbals is doing with “fire cider.” It would be like if GT Dave of GT’s Kombucha tried to trademark the word “kombucha” – which originated in ancient China – because he recently popularized the beverage in the American marketplace.
Shire City Herbals said they’ve given out a quarter million samples and reached many in the general public who’ve never even heard the phrase or tasted the drink. They say they’ve turned people on to “fire cider” and natural medicine. And by doing so, they claim they’ve given this traditional spicy elixir a second meaning or “added value.” But, how can they make such a claim?
Value isn’t something you create – unlike an object that has physical configurations. Value, worth, usefulness – or whatever you want to call it – is subjective, depending upon whom you’re talking to. A picture of my mother might mean the world to me, but to someone else it might mean diddly. The same can be said for words or phrases.
Maybe Shire City Herbals thinks they’ve added value to the phrase “fire cider” by coming up with what they think is a superior version of the beverage and by popularizing the words with a big marketing campaign. But maybe other herbalists think their recipes are better and that the company has bastardized or tarnished the reputation of the traditional beverage.
If Shire City Herbals had a product superior to their competitors’, there’d be no need to use intellectual property laws to sell it. A recipe for success – for entrepreneurs and consumers – is when markets are left alone, freed from government rules, regulations, protections and patents. Thanks to companies like Shire City Herbals, recipes like those are fewer and farther between.
Poster image from Wikimedia Commons. Elixir images from Food Riot Radio where this article first appeared. Please check out their articles and podcasts and "like" them on Facebook.