the j.crew experiment

This starts way back in 1997, junior year at Syracuse. I was living in a house off campus (aka The Green Monster) with eleven other guys. It was one of those houses that had been handed down for a number of years - 12 new kids every year. Anyway, because of the revolving door-nature of our housemates, at one point we were receiving 5 to 10 J.Crew catalogs per day, most of which were addressed to people who had live in the house two or three years ago.

One of us (Doug?) went to the jcrew.com website to see if we could put an end to the madness (I mean, it really is a waste to get stacks and stacks of catalogs), but instead found a way to request more catalogs, only addressed to any name you want.

So anyway, within a few days, a catalog for Dick Liquor shows up. A week later, someone else in the house gets the same idea and tries to show up Dick Liquor with a Jimmy Fuhknut catalog. And then another, and another showed up... all of my housemates trying to one-up the others by sending more and more objectionable names. Such as...

The J.Crew Experiment - Part I

The J.Crew Experiment - Part II

The J.Crew Experiment - Part III

The J.Crew Experiment - Part IV

The J.Crew Experiment - Part V

... there were others, but I don't think I ever got to scan them. Anyway, I cut them out, scanned them in and then threw together a simple web page showing what we'd done and encouraging others to "conduct their own" experiment by linking to jcrew.com's catalog ordering page. It was very funny for a while then we all just forgot about it.

Then fast forward about a year or so, a day before spring break our senior year, and this Fed Ex letter arrives for Eric.


March 6, 1998

Dear Eric:

As the New Media Director for J. Crew Mail Order, I am writing to tell you that your website has not escaped my company's notice.

Although we appreciate the humorous intent of your website posting, our lawyers' sense of humor does not run the same course. According to them, the positing of these labels bearing the J. Crew trademark and fictitious obscene names damages the image on which our valuable business in founded.

Because of this, the lawyers have asked me to tell you that your website violates Federal Trademark Laws and exposes you to some serious penalties. On top of that, apparently the U.S. Postal Service also could come after you for the use of false names on the catalog labels.

Therefore, so that both of us can avoid any additional dealings with the suits, please take the J. Crew trademark off of your website.

Please get back to me on this in a couple of days.

Sincerely,

Brian Sugar
New Media Director

At this point, it had been more than a year since that page went up and we hadn't heard anything. Some random website must have picked up on the page and made it the "cool site of the day" or whatever as it suddenly started getting a lot of traffic.

We didn't do anything about the letter until after spring break. That was until we got back and waiting for us was a letter from the Syracuse Univ. Judicial Board threatening to delete our email accounts and web access if we didn't remove the J.Crew content from my site (apparently J.Crew cc: Syracuse on the letter).

Now being the cocky senior who aced Com Law (Newhouse COM 555) the semester before (well, B+), I decided to fight the university on the issue. See, the catalog scans are protected under the Fair Use clause and are neither degrading nor diluting the J.Crew brand (they are not a parody since they were actually sent to us) and are not Copyright Infringement (because of such a small scan of what is a 100 pg catalog). With the help of Com Law Prof. Jay Wright at SU, we were able to put together a solid case to present to the judicial board.

This story is pretty long, so I'll just sum up this part... Eric and I presented to the judicial board, and while they still weren't happy about it, they were impressed that we at least researched the topic and said that if we took down the site we could keep our email accounts and skip free without any community service. I had other shit to worry about at the time, so that sounded like a good deal to me. The end, right?

Okay, fast forward about six months now... in August 1998, just after I moved down to the city and started working at Jupiter, I was having lunch and catching up with all my friends from past internships and summers spent in NYC. I meet up with my friend Mike Shapiro (former kb intern) for lunch one day and tell him the J.Crew story. Who knew, but he used to work for Brian Sugar (who signed the above letter) and Mike was actually the author of the letter. Since the letter was addressed to my roommate (Eric Freid), Mike didn't make the connection that it was referring to my site. Small world.

Now, fast forward, um, four years... me and some friends sitting in Open Air Bar on St. Marks Place and who walks in but my old-employer Michael Cohen and his friend... Brian Sugar. Anyway, Mike introduces us, we reminisce about the old days of dot.com millions and then I finished my pint and went to sing karaoke w/ Dave Joerg. The end.


updated: 10.17.01
(c) 2001, dennis crowley