Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul

Last week I received a cease-and-desist letter from the law firm that represents the folks who produce the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. Apparently they thought that one of the books I have for sale on Amazon, Soup for the Chicken’s Soul, infringed on their “Chicken Soup for the Soul” trademark. Talk about having nothing better to do – they actually came after someone who hasn’t even sold enough books to buy one of his dates a decent meal. At least that’s the excuse I give them.

Here are some excerpts from their letter:

The CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL series has achieved great success for almost two decades.  To date, the series includes over 200 titles and has sold over 112 million copies.

It has recently come to our attention that you are selling a book entitled “Soup for the Chicken’s Soul” on  Our client objects to the sale of this book because the title is so close in appearance, sound and meaning to our client’s registered CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL trademark that the use of same is likely to cause confusion in the marketplace as to the source of the “Soup for the Chicken’s Soul” book and to deceive potential purchasers into believing that this book is actually one of the books in the famous CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL book series.

Accordingly, it is necessary that you immediately cease all advertising and sale of this book.  Should you refuse our request, our client will have no choice but to take legal action against you to enforce its trademark rights, including seeking an injunction prohibiting future sale of the offending book and an award of damages to compensate our client for the injury caused by the sale of this book.

I can understand why, after well over a year of that book being available for purchase, they chose now to harass me: this has been a slow month. Nothing much of note is happening in the world. In fact, there is so little going on that news organizations are grasping at anything that might raise an eyebrow, such as Rihanna’s flirty bikini photos and rumors that Kim Kardashian might be a little bit slutty.

Anyway, the Chicken Soup folks’ absurd letter just begged for a sarcastic response, which is what I gave them. Here it is:

Dear lawyers at Epstein Drangel LLP:

I am responding to your letter of April 10, 2012, addressing my alleged infringement of your client’s “Chicken Soup for the Soul” trademark.

First I want to thank you for spending the time and effort to write me such a well-thought-out letter. I now feel camaraderie with, and the desire to speak to, a group of highly educated mensches. I haven’t felt this way since my bar-mitzvah.

In your letter you stated that your client objects to the sale of my trademark parody book, “Soup for the Chicken’s Soul”, because the title is “so close in appearance, sound and meaning ... that the use of same is likely to cause confusion in the marketplace ... and to deceive potential purchasers into believing that this book is actually one of the books in the famous CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL book series.”

The fact that your client, Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing (CSSP), finds my trademark parody a threat to them is truly flattering. According to your letter, your client has sold 112,000,000 books. Well, the fact that such a powerful conglomerate would set their lawyers upon me is by far the biggest literary compliment I have ever received, unless you count the time my mother told me that she laughed so hard she peed herself.

My paying homage to your client’s books by modeling one of mine after theirs puts me in the same league as the folks who sell the books Chicken Pies for the Soul, Chicken Shit for the Soul, Chicken Soup for Little Souls, Rubber Chickens for the Soul, and Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul. I’m sure you have sent them the same heartwarming letter you sent me.

My book is an obvious trademark parody, and as such it is protected against legal action for trademark infringement, just as the books listed above are. However, if your client still feels threatened by it, feel free to send me another letter describing what it is about my particular work that disqualifies it from using the parody defense (if you lack sufficient funds to purchase a copy, you can read it for free on my website). If you provide specific excerpts from my work showing that it is a trademark infringement rather than a legally protected parody, then I will gladly remove it from Amazon. Lord knows that I do not want to get into a legal battle with a large corporation that has lots of money to spend on legal fees – money that it obtained by selling books that teach love, respect and sharing. I especially like how many of its books carry the subtitle “Stories to Open the Heart and Rekindle the Spirit”, because nothing opens my heart and rekindles my spirit like receiving an unsolicited letter threatening me with a lawsuit for committing the heinous crime of trying to entertain people.

I cannot say for sure how many copies of my book have been sold because I have about a dozen books for sale on Amazon, and when they send me my monthly royalty checks (about ten dollars), they do not specify which books or how many of each were sold. However, using my powers of deduction by considering its sales ranking, the rankings of my other books, my per-book royalties, and my total royalties received to date, my best guess is that exactly one copy of “Soup for the Chicken’s Soul” has been sold in the 15 months it has been available. The purchase price was $4.99, and since I keep 70% of the sales from my Kindle-formatted books, that means that I received $3.49 from that sale. If your client feels that I have received this money under false pretenses, let me know and I will gladly send them a personal check for $3.49. I’m sure it will compensate them the $450 an hour you are charging them to correspond with me.

Thank you for recognizing me as a true author, one that could possibly ruin your client’s empire by damaging their sales. There is no doubt that the old lady from Nebraska who downloaded my book onto her Kindle is only the first of what will surely be millions of people forsaking “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books in order to read my tripe.

Congratulations on being such an effective group of litigators. Perhaps you could write the next book in your client’s series and call it “Chicken Soup for the Lawyer’s Soul”. That is, if lawyers have souls.


Benjamin L. Schwalb, author

P.S. If your client is looking for someone to write a humor book, please let them know that I am available for hire. But they’d better hurry because I hear that the “For Dummies” folks want me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I recently went to an Orioles game, which doesn’t sound unusual until you realize that I’m not a sports fan. Wait, let me rephrase that. I’m not a normal sports fan. (Of course, I’m not a normal anything for that matter.) Your normal, average sports fan loves to root for their favorite football/basketball/baseball/hockey team, be happy when they win and miserable when they lose, because as we all know, the way that athletes we’ve never met perform in the arena has such a profound impact on us. For example, if they win, we will gain unimaginable riches and have sex with celebrities; whereas if they lose, we will become homeless and die of cholera.

I am too self-absorbed to care about sports teams. The one sport I watch is the one I’m passionate about: wrestling. Not the kind of wrestling most people think of. I mean collegiate and Olympic wrestling. I don’t need to spend my sports-viewing time watching actors smack each other around and hit each other with chairs. That’s what the Three Stooges are for.

Now, I’m not saying that professional sports teams aren’t important. It’s just that there are other things I consider more important. Health. Love. Freedom. Safety. Friends. Parties. Beer. Music. My dog. Sunbathing. Laundry. Hedgehogs.

Anyway, the other day my friend Carl, who has been my housemate for most of my post-marriage years and has suffered through my 40-woman dating spree, invites me to an Orioles game with him and his kids, as he has an extra ticket that he bought for his girlfriend who couldn’t make it, so he generously gives it to me. I suppose, then, that this could technically be considered another date for me, the main difference being that the evening won’t cost me half a day’s wages and he probably won’t file a restraining order.

I agree to go, not that I like baseball, but because it’s an opportunity to spend some quality time with my friend and his children. Oh, and did I mention that it was free?

The four of us drive to Camden Yards, paying a mere ten bucks to park, which is chump change when you consider the price of tickets and merchandise. We begin our adventure by immediately getting gouged by a hat vendor outside the park who charges $25 for a kid-size cap. Why so much? Well, the hat has the new Orioles logo, you see. The team logo changes every few years because if it didn’t, people couldn’t be coerced into buying new merchandise.

Inside the park we peruse more merchandise, and we realize that we got a great deal outside because in here baseball caps are on sale for $40. I haven’t seen such highway robbery since my divorce.

Our seats are in the “Left Field Picnic Perch”. They cost considerably more than the nosebleed section but come with a privilege that makes them worth the extra cost: free food. Of course, by “food” I mean “stuff that they stopped serving in prisons because of all the lawsuits”. The culinary fare consists mainly of nachos, hot dogs, sodas, and popcorn so salty that I actually consider buying an eight-dollar Miller Lite to wash it down.

Another benefit of the Picnic Perch is that the “Upper Reserve” hangs over it, which greatly reduces the chance of getting pooped on. Well, by birds anyway.

So we get to our seats, and as I scan the field I notice that there are no cheerleaders. Why not? I mean, football and basketball teams have cheerleaders. I thought of a great cheer that Orioles cheerleaders could chant:

“Let’s go Orioles!
Try not to suck!”

One of our first experiences after sitting down is hearing a woman, who sounds like she’s been smoking since she was three, proclaim about one of the players, “That’s my future ex-husband.” I can’t help it but for a split second I imagine what it would be like to be married to her, and suddenly every woman I’ve ever dated looks like marriage material.

The stadium has lots of empty seats. Even though a number of people drove from out of town because the Yankees are playing, attendance is pretty low. There were more people at my bar-mitzvah.

Between innings they keep people awake with music. They also show close-ups of fans on the big screen. My favorite part is when they select the Massengil-Depends-Listerine-Anusol Fan of the Game.

The Orioles lose, but although their fans are somewhat disappointed, they still had fun, because the value of sports is entertainment. So what if your team loses? Cholera isn’t always fatal.