Is Yellowhammer Creative guilty of Columbusing?

Part of the crowd at Yellowhammer Creative's town hall meeting at Trim Tab Brewery

Part of the crowd at Yellowhammer Creative’s town hall meeting at Trim Tab Brewery.

On Monday, the country will honor Italian explorer Christopher Columbus for accidentally stumbling upon the Americas.  While Columbus Day has been an official holiday since 1937, there’s a growing number of people who object to the celebration. Why pay homage to someone who practiced genocide as well as opened up the transatlantic slave trade, they wonder.

For years, Columbus has been praised for discovering the Americas despite the fact there were scores of indigenous people inhabiting the land long before he was born. His actions (or misactions), however, have taken root in a new word to describe misappropriation: Columbusing.  Columbusing, according to NPR, is the art of discovering something that’s not new.

In Birmingham, there’s a brouhaha over the owners of a local graphics design firm, Yellowhammer Creative, attempting to trademark a slogan and artwork they did not originally create. The slogan – It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham – has been around since 1963, according to long-time civic leader Tom Cosby. Cosby stated on a Facebook post that the work was commissioned by the Downtown Action Committee which was later absorbed by Birmingham’s Chamber of Commerce, an organization he worked for for 35 years. “We used this image/message off and on throughout my career…while I might admire Yellowhammer’s chutzpah, this is laughable that they would now try to sell this image to citizens who want to promote Birmingham. What’s next, we have to pay to use the phrase “The Magic City?”

Reports have indeed surfaced that the group has had its attorneys send “cease and desist” letters to other vendors whose products contain the phrase. There’s one particularly damaging story of YHC sending a letter to local developers explaining it would cost more than $60,000 to add the phrase to the parking deck of one of their properties.

YHC feels their actions have been blown out of proportion. In an attempt to quell the furor, the company hosted a town hall meeting at a local brewery last night (10-8-15). In their defense, partners Brett Forsyth and Brandon Watkins said they did not file the trademark application to profit off the slogan but rather to become its benevolent caretaker. They reiterated what they’ve been saying since this news broke last week: We’re not doing this for financial gain; we’re doing this for the good of the city. And we certainly can’t trust the city to take care of this, they said. Their tone could be construed as patronizing, similar to Columbus’s tone with the “savages” he encountered.

It's NiceWhile Forsyth and Watkins stated they are seeking the trademark to protect the slogan from other cities who may want to usurp it as well as from bad people (“The klan may want to use it!”), some in the audience aren’t sure it needs protection. After all, the phrase has been fine all these years without a trademark.

One attendee asked, “What if the Chamber of Commerce had trademarked the slogan and made you [YHC] pay to use it?”  No answer was given.

People are finding it hard to stomach the gall, the chutzpah, the Columbus-like behavior, shown by YHC.

3 thoughts on “Is Yellowhammer Creative guilty of Columbusing?

  1. I’m fairly positive that I don’t need any of their products until all this is settled. This is a phrase which I also remember as being common usage since the ’60’s. I’ve liked this company a lot and hope this can be worked out, but I doubt that using the phrase “benevolent caretaker” can be justified.

  2. They absolutely said that they would pay a fee, like everybody else.. That slogan was not POPULAR until YHC re-introduced it to the city, in a time when Bham was cleaning up neighborhoods and starting to come back to life. YHC never claimed to be its original creator.. how do you think they got the idea? He re-vamped the slogan for a good cause and his business became successful much in part by doing so. Not only that, they began promoting neighborhoods with the slogan (in their creative vision, font, style) and it was so receptive by all! Again, nobody has used this slogan for the city in decades. I’ve never seen the slogan used until YHC… And, nobody wants to say, hey thanks YHC for bringing this back to life for our city. Instead, you all say they aren’t original and only want money.. Stupid. Give credit where credit is due. They have been nothing but genuine about this whole thing. Nobody can believe that maybe there’s good in this and maybe these guys are actually wanting to preserve its integrity and use.

    • Kimberly S, you may not have been aware of the slogan until YHC began using it, but the slogan had been used by artists and commercial entities alike long before they came along. That’s the problem with misappropriation: just because you suddenly “discover” something doesn’t mean that thing was unpopular. It was just unpopular to you.

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