When Muskegon brewer Michael Brower got the cease-and-desist demand from dance-rappers LMFAO, it came as a surprise.
Nearly 1 1/2 years after Pigeon Hill Brewery had opened, and even longer since they had started brewing their signature stout, they were being asked to drop its name "Let Me Fetch an Oatmeal Stout," which they have always identified by its acronym "LMFAO."
"I LMFAOed when I got the letter" Tuesday afternoon, said Brower on Thursday.
The band's lawyers wrote that "LMFAO" is a registered trademark with intent for use in the worlds of music, clothing and jewelry. The letter calls it a "world famous mark relating to an entertainment phenomenon." The duo itself, consisting of Redfoo and his nephew Sky Blu, both descendants of Motown founder Berry Gordy, rose to prominence in the club world in the mid-2000s, peaking with the hit "Party Rock Anthem" in 2011.
But their legal wranglings with Pigeon Hill were triggered more recently when the brewery's founders sought and received a trademark for the use of "LFMAO" for the name of a beer. It was likely that trademark office approval that caused LMFAO -- the band -- to take note.
"I assume they're concerned about dilution of their work," said Brower. But he's concerned about dilution of his beer, and his relationship with its drinkers. He described LMFAO as a light but extremely creamy stout -- enhanced by being served on nitro in the tap room -- with notes of chocolate and roastiness. At just 5 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), it's an easy-drinking, year-round beer.
"We like to drink beer and we like to drink a lot of it. This is a beer you can really drink any time of year and drink a lot of," Brower said. "That is the first beer that went from being a homebrew to something that we knew we would be serving in our taproom."
And its name wasn't a conspiracy to rip off the dance rappers. The beer was named by its fans and drinkers.
"We love double entendres. We love acronyms. This beer was named by our fans and we appreciate their input," Brower said. And he likes the name. So he took the controversy to the brewery's Facebook fans Wednesday afternoon. They've been supportive, offering advice and assistance. One fan even researched the acronym "LMFAO" for examples of prior art, tracking it back more than 25 years to its use in AOL chat rooms.
Others had more humorous suggestions:
Grady Ogle: "Say no, ship them a keg with a note that simply says 'LMFAO'."
David Bradford: "There (sic) music dilutes your brand, not the other way around."
If there's anything that's funny about this dispute, it's this: Brower, whose title is "co-founder and director of legal and marketing" for Pigeon Hill is actually a liquor lawyer in his day job. He works for breweries and distilleries regularly, and said trademark disputes are about 15-20 percent of his job -- and growing.
That's because with the explosive growth of craft beer in the last several years, more and more breweries and beer names are infringing on each other. In the vast majority of cases, it's not an issue, Brower said, because small brewers are by nature a cooperative and collaborative lot. But every so often things flare, like the dust-up earlier this year between Kalamazoo-based Bell's and North Carolina's Innovation Brewing over the word "innovation." Or the lawsuit by California-based Lagunitas over a Sierra Nevada IPA label that it said too-closely resembled the "Hop Hunter" label.
"Unfortunately, that's the world we're getting into with beer and beer names," Brower said. His action several months ago to seek a trademark on "LMFAO" as a beer name wasn't as much about stopping somebody else from using it. After all, Pigeon Hill only distributes as far as Lansing right now, but a pending 20-barrel expansion could let him reach Detroit soon. Instead, he described it as defensive. He didn't want another brewer to get a trademark and take away the name of a flagship beer.
"We have no intention of doing so unless we're pushed," he said. But the Bell's and Lagunitas/Sierra Nevada incidents "put us on red alert."
For now, Brower said he's asked for additional time in addition to the two weeks demanded by LMFAO's attorneys.
"We've got two options: We can change the name right now, or we can stick to our guns and keep the name. We're going to take the weekend to hear from our fans and to sleep on it."
And maybe enjoy a little LMFAO.