Mr. Mark Zietlow
Cunningham Dalman, P.C.
Attorneys at Law
PO Box 1767
Holland, Michigan 49423
Dear Mr. Zietlow,
I have received your
letter dated March 27, 2000. Your initial words were…
Licensing Resource Group, which is the exclusive licensing agent for Texas
A&M University. Licensing Resource Group has brought to our attention
the fact that you are using the mark “Forbidden Word,” in connection with a
dance, and advertise “Forbidden Word Jitterbug” dance
lessons. The mark “Forbidden Word” is exclusively
licensed to Licensing Resource Group.”
My name is Rick Archer.
As the owner of SSQQ Dance Studio I appreciate your bringing this concern to
my attention. It isn’t often I receive such well-written threatening
letters. I believe your document merits a reply, so I am indeed responding
in writing. Please forgive the length of this letter. I find this situation
to be very complicated and it may take a while for me to sort out the issues
For one thing, I am very
naïve in legal matters. I have never been sued. Nor have I ever even been
threatened with a lawsuit until you helped me cross this threshold, thank
you very much. I will never forget you in this respect. So please bear with
me. I am understandably nervous because we are playing in your court, so to
For starters, do I have
permission to type the words “a-g-g-i-e
Jitterbug” in this letter? I am indeed most fearful of making any
further licensing infringements!! Perhaps
it is better if for the remainder I simply of the letter refer to the
offending term as the “Forbidden Word”.
I have been told that
ignorance of the law is no excuse when it comes to serious legal matters,
plus I am intimidated by the strong language in your letter. I feel like I
am crossing a minefield in writing back to you. If I do indeed cross some
unwritten line in the sand and offend, you have my most humble apology. Your
patience with me will be greatly appreciated.
Before I ask some
questions, I feel the need to supply some background information. I am not
quite sure whom I am dealing with.
Here in Texas, graduates
of Texas A&M are considered by some people to be “Stupid”.
In my dealings with graduates of Texas A&M, I personally have never met
anyone from Texas A&M whom I considered to be in any way “Stupid”
at all, but nevertheless I must acknowledge the rumor persists.
May I ask a question?
– Is it because Texas A&M-trained lawyers are considered “Stupid”
that the Licensing arm of TAMU decided to go all the way to Michigan to find
some smart lawyers? Or is it
that A&M doesn’t actually have a law school so they are forced to hire
out-of-state mercenaries to do their dirty work?
I would have thought that in a state as large as Texas, TAMU could
have found a locally trained lawyer, but perhaps the thought of hiring a
lawyer trained by some other state university is completely out of the
question. If you have the time, could you please clarify why a Michigan Law
Firm represents TAMU?
Mr. Zietlow, as I have
already stated but cannot emphasize enough, here in Texas the words “Stupid”
and “Texas A&M” are considered by many to be synonyms.
Since you are likely from Michigan –
congratulations incidentally on your fine Spartan NCAA Championship Team! -
perhaps it would help you to understand the problem better if I gave you
further cultural background information.
For your edification,
the following are considered typical “Forbidden Word”
Jokes. Actually, I am still worried about further licensing infringements,
so from now on please allow me the switch to a code word – “Baggie”.
I am not going to tell you what it stands for, but hopefully you will be
able to “read between the lines”.
Baggie was smoking a cigarette on a cliff. How did he die?
He threw the wrong butt off the cliff.
did the Baggie Freshman wear condoms in his ear? He was terrified of
getting hearing aids.
do you call a Stork who delivers Baggie Babies? A Dope Peddler.
you hear the one about the Texas Baggie Quarterback who transferred
to the University of Oklahoma for a pay raise and thereby raised the IQ of both states?
Unfortunately the one
about the “Baggie Quarterback” is a bit complicated and I have been
forced on several occasions to explain it to some people. This leads me to
my next point.
Although I have already
stated for the record that I for one do not believe any Graduates of TAMU I
have ever met are “stupid”, I have discovered many of them are
quite sensitive about the legendary jokes made about their university’s
reputation for ignorance.
Mr. Zietlow, as a
lawyer, doesn’t your profession receive more than its share of teasing?
Consequently you should have some experience in dealing the effects
of prolonged needling. You should also be in an excellent position to judge
how accurate is the truth-to-myth ratio of the ubiquitous Lawyer jokes.
As you know, over the
years, many other groups of people have also been singled out for jokes
regarding “stupidity” – witness the Polish jokes, Blonde jokes,
and Minnesota ice-brain jokes (isn’t Minnesota in your neck of the woods,
Mr. Zietlow?). I doubt any of these groups enjoy being teased even when it
is good-natured. For example, silly nicknames I call my daughter are not
nearly as funny as when she turns around and calls me the same names. So I
too understand how it feels to be teased. It gets pretty old quickly.
Probably due to the long
traditions of listening to people make fun of A&M and A&M graduates,
I have noticed that many A&M graduates are willing to defend their
school’s honor at even the slightest perceived aspersion. In fact, I would
not be surprised to find it was just this hair-trigger defensiveness that
likely created our legal juxtaposition in the first place. For if ever there
was a school that inspired “blind loyalty”, Texas A&M would be the
first to come to my mind.
I believe one
over-zealous gentleman, a certain Mr. Stephen Huzar, created this entire
incident. In the tradition of
Don Quixote I believe Mr. Huzar mistook my dance studio for a windmill in
his zeal to defend A&M’s honor. Not only do I imagine this gentleman
“over-reacted”, but I have a hunch you are but an unwitting foil to his
rampage as well.
For example, this next
story illustrates nicely the legendary “touchiness” displayed by members
of the A&M community in regards to telling Baggie Jokes.
little runt guy runs into a bar. He hurries up to a stool and says, “Hey,
Bartender, Bud Lite and make it snappy!”
bartender is taken aback by the little guy’s aggressiveness, but turns
even colder when the little guy says, “Hey, I just heard a great Baggie
joke. You wanna hear it?”
bartender finishes filling the glass, turns around, and places it on the
counter a little too roughly so some of the beer spills out. The bartender
grits his teeth and snarls the following words…
Mister, before you tell that joke, I better tell you something. Now I went
to A&M and so did my brother, the bouncer, you know, that big guy over
there. We both played some football. We didn’t graduate, but we had some
good times, made a little money under the table playing ball, and really
liked the place. And the manager, that guy sitting in the office over there,
he also went to A&M and he even graduated. Now do you still want
to tell that Baggie joke?”
runt guy frowns, grimaces, scratches his head, then looks at his watch.
“Nah, I guess I better not. I don’t have time to explain it to all three
Mr. Zietlow, if I may
get personal for a moment, it is obvious you do not know me from Adam. I
took as my first clue your nondescript greeting, “Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Indeed, after a second glance at your letter, I think it is likely to be a
form letter where you did a thoroughly professional job of filling in the
appropriate blanks. You might be amused to know there is a Baggie joke that
deals with this very subject.
can you tell when an A&M Lawyer has been using the Word Processor?
The white out is still on the screen.
Therefore, I want you to
know I don’t hold any ill will towards you personally in this incident. My
guess is your rationale in the matter was that you were just doing your job.
This concept works well for Dog Catchers, Bill Collectors, Telephone
Solicitors, and many other people who like you work in unpopular
professions. Nor should you take anything I say too personally. I am simply
a guy in a jam trying to clear up an unpleasant situation
Now that I have conveyed to the best of my
ability the cultural climate that overshadows our situation, I would like to
address the issues. Referring yet again to your succinct letter,
your use of “Forbidden Word” is a direct
infringement on the rights of Licensing Resource Group. We consider your
infringement to be a serious intrusion on the rights of our
Now here I have a
question. Do you really consider this matter to be "serious"
or was that word already in the form letter and you just didn't have
the energy to bother to remove it?
Assuming you are indeed
serious, I am sorry that you consider my dance studio’s use of the “Forbidden
Word” to be a “serious intrusion.”
Just so we can speak a common language, you know, lawyer to dance
teacher, here at the dance studio, we call this “stepping on someone’s
toes.” Until I received your
threatening letter, I never dreamed the use of the “Forbidden Word”
was tantamount to legally stepping on tender TAMU toes.
Back in the 80s
I dated and eventually married a woman who was a graduate of Texas A&M. She taught me
how to dance the
“Forbidden Word Jitterbug”. I assumed that’s what
everyone called it so that’s what I called it too. I
am completely honest when I say I never dreamed anyone would take offense
until Mr. Stephen Huzar brought this matter to my attention in an email to
me dated Friday, February 4, 2000. (see
Mr. Zietlow, although I totally comprehend
the serious nature of your letter, I have to admit I was amused by one
aspect of your document, the phrase “compensatory
damages for lost businesses”.
For one thing, I wasn’t aware that A&M taught “Forbidden
Word Jitterbug”. Is this course part of
their curriculum? If it isn't in their college curriculum, then how are they supposed to be losing money on
something they don’t even teach? Furthermore,
just how much money do you people think my studio
actually makes off of “Forbidden Word Jitterbug”?
Better get out your calculator! It’s Disclosure Time!
The last time my dance studio actually
held a course in “Forbidden
Word Jitterbug” was on Saturday, July 10, 1999. I should know since I taught the course.
There were 10 people in attendance. Between them they paid out perhaps $100
(10 bucks a piece, but I think one of them snuck in and didn't pay).
I was so disappointed in the lack of interest that I decided not to offer
the course again for the rest of the year. I might add it was the only time
the entire year enough people actually even showed up for the course to
make. I would imagine the profits from our entire “Forbidden Word Jitterbug” program
when viewed in relation to our total program would be about the size of a
pimple on a hippopotamus' rear end. With a nod to the historic Texas association with a Country-Western
life-style, around these parts some people would call your firm’s interest
in this matter “beating a dead horse”.
If you do indeed decide (as you have
threatened to do) take legal action against me for Trademark Violation and
depose any of the several thousand dance students that took lessons at my
studio in 1999, you will be hard-pressed to find anyone to contradict me.
You would be even more hard-pressed to actually find someone who took a
course in “Forbidden
Word Jitterbug”. You
have my written word that I have not conducted a massive cover-up in this
Just out of curiosity, how much of your time
would the 1999 SSQQ profits from “Forbidden
Word Jitterbug” buy? I
would imagine a billable hour for an attorney like you with a high-priced
non-Texas law firm would exceed $100 pretty fast. $100 might even be about
what you would charge for punching out a fill-in-the-blank “Cease and
Desist” threat letter like the one you sent me. Although thankfully I have
never had an occasion to need a lawyer, I have heard that Lawyers are very
expensive. Witness if you would the following story.
man walked into a lawyer’s office and inquired about the lawyer’s rates.
“$100.00 for three questions”, replied the lawyer. “Isn’t that
awfully steep?” asked the man. “Yes,” the lawyer replied, “and what
was your third question?”
Mr. Zietlow, did you
know that I actually attempted to make peace with Mr. Stephen Huzar?
Did you know I exchanged several emails with the gentleman and offered to hold a
TAMU scholarship benefit “Forbidden Word Jitterbug” class
at my studio as a peace gesture? (see Shaggie 2
and Shaggie 4)
Yes, it is true!
Furthermore, Mr. Huzar wrote another email. If I may share with you
the first paragraph from his email to me dated February 8, 2000…
appreciate your warm esteem towards Texas A&M.
More importantly, it appears I owe you a huge apology. By describing the chain of events below, I am not trying to
rationalize my original message - it appears I was undoubtedly mistaken as
to SSQQs willingness to associate with us.
Please accept my unqualified apology…”
Forgive me if I assumed
at the time that everyone had decided to let bygones be bygones. I obviously
was mistaken. Interestingly, this benefit class was strictly my own idea. It
was not suggested to me nor was I pressured into doing it. I happen to know
a lot of Texas A&M graduates. Not only are they clearly not stupid, they
are some of the nicest people I know. I honestly wanted to do something
positive for their school. I had hoped to send a clear message that I was
not a threat to Texas A&M University nor had I any desire to exploit
Mr. Zietlow, are you
aware that I scheduled the benefit class in “Forbidden Word
Jitterbug” at my studio for the night of March 25th?
This event occurred just two days before you sent me your nice
Did you know we had over
40 people in the class, many of them graduates of TAMU? I received several
comments that the dance I taught was exactly what they remembered from their
undergraduate days at the University. The only discouraging word I received
all evening was the disappointment that I wasn’t teaching any advanced
steps in the Forbidden Dance.
For the evening, I hired
Ms. Rachel Seff to be my assistant. Ms. Seff, '92, is not only an A&M
graduate, she is also the current recipient of one of A&M’s finest
honors – The TAMU 1999 Harris Award for Community Service (a fact that I
proudly announced to my entire dance studio on my web site).
I didn’t expect to receive quite the same accolades as Ms. Seff,
but I thought I might at least get a “thank you” note for the evening…
something I have not received as yet.
I even wore my Texas
A&M cap to demonstrate solidarity although I was worried that someone
might perceive me as trying too hard. Oh well, I guess that’s the kind of
chance I have to take when I do everything in my power to bend over
backwards trying to make people happy.
Did you know that my
event on March 25th raised $500? I had invited members of the
Houston Association of Former A&M Students to come collect the money
themselves, but when none appeared to help, I collected the money myself.
You will just have to trust me when I say we did not skim any money off as a
hedge against future A&M-related legal expenses.
Did you know I didn’t
even have a clue who to send the money to?
I had to email an A&M dance student who took the class just to
get an address. He offered me this address –
Houston A&M Club
P.O. Box 27382
Houston, TX 77227--7382
It is likely that my
studio’s donation of $500 to a Texas A&M Scholarship sent on March 27th
to the local Association of Former
A&M Students crossed your letter to me dated March 27th in the mail.
the postman even picked up my donation at the same time he delivered to your
nice threatening letter to me! Maybe your lawsuit
envelope might even have fleetingly touched my scholarship envelope in
passing!! Now what a coincidence that would have been!
Zietlow, don’t you agree that would be rather ironic?
In view of my
scholarship contribution to Texas A&M when compared to the treatment I
have received from one certain individual in the A&M community plus your
esteemed law firm, you can imagine why I have experienced a great deal of
cognitive dissonance regarding this matter. But now we are getting more into
the realm of psychotherapy, which likely is not your particular bailiwick,
so let’s move on.
have a couple more questions, if I may. You write,
your use of “Forbidden Word” is a direct infringement on
the rights of Licensing Resource Group. We consider your infringement to be
a serious intrusion on the rights of our client”.
my letter, I have included several examples of what here in Houston are
commonly called “Forbidden Word Jokes”. I hear people call
them “Forbidden Word Jokes” all the time. Thousands of
people, millions even, tell “Forbidden Word Jokes” every
is it okay for these people to use the term “Forbidden Word
Joke” while I can’t use the term “Forbidden Word
Jitterbug”? Is it because I
have attempted to make money from the use of the “Forbidden Word”? Is that my sin?
there are “Forbidden Word” graduates of different schools
across the country. For example, Colorado State graduates are often called Forbidden
Words. Isn’t it pretty obvious that in no way am I trying the
exploit the reputation of Texas A&M for my own business purposes?
by the way, how can A&M experience business losses for something the
University isn’t even involved in?
you could cite a legal case, you know “Godzilla v. Mothra” or something
like that, which would help me understand why what I have done is considered
by you to be such a “serious intrusion on the rights of our
see, Mr. Zietlow, I am worried that in some people’s eyes, this entire
incident might be considered “STUPID”.
fact, I would imagine this is exactly
the very sort of incident Texas A&M University would prefer to avoid.
is stories such as this one that could very possibly persuade
independent thinkers that there is a grain of truth inside those ridiculous
jokes. Surely your law firm would not want to push this matter any further
than necessary for fear of provoking unnecessary harm to the reputation of
Texas A&M University.
I might add that I still
think one solitary individual, the unfortunate Mr. Huzar, has orchestrated
this entire affair. I also know for a fact that every member of the A&M
community save Mr. Huzar that I have checked with is mortified by this
In summary, I think your
position is absurd. As William Shakespeare might put it, your position is
“Much Ado About Nothing”. You are defending a hill of sand that nobody
However, since you are
paid to take this matter seriously, I will grant you a temporary victory in
the Annals of Justice. As a sign of my goodwill in this complex matter, you
have my written assurance that for the time being I will “cease and
desist” using the Forbidden Word as you have requested.
I have decided to rename
the Forbidden Dance “The shaggie Jitterbug” for 30 days. This should
give you ample time to respond to me with an answer to some of my
However, if I do not
hear back from you within 30 days of the date of this letter, can I assume I
have your permission to resume calling the Forbidden Dance by its well-known
Public Domain Name, “THE Forbidden Word JITTERBUG”?
I await your next
SSQQ Dance Studio