The Great Brain Robbery
In 1999, Trek bike company parasitized my years of hard work, good will, and brand management to sell to women. I used to be able to produce and sell out women’s camps…now I barely exist. Women’s Mountain Bike & Tea Society™ was fifteen years old when someone at Trek woke up and found out that half the population is not young white men.
Here’s a 1999 WOMBATS home page (above) and Trek’s rip-off ad (below).
Our web site was designed by New York artist Hadley Taylor, who saw an opportunity to showcase her humor and talent for organizing information in an easy-to-follow. engaging way. WOMBATS website won a “25 best websites” award from Wired Magazine that year (1997). Hadly made a Wombats Art Gallery, complete with “virtual cheese” and “virtual wine”, galleries to stroll through featuring black and white photos of women on & off bikes having fun. Judie Scalfano took most of them, but one was by professional photographer Carl Gooding.
Thanks to the Wired Magazine prize, WOMBATS was now squarely in the cross hairs of “advertising age’, who cast around for truly original stuff to “borrow” for their corporate clients. Within a month or two, a dozen ad agency employees subscribed to our newsletter….Hal Riney, Goodby Silverstein, Saatchi & Saatchi…a long list. I know because the envelopes housing the applications had the company logo.
If it hadn’t been for the thoughtul, considered treatment I got from Fallon McElligott of Minneapolis a few months before Trek ripped me off, I never might have learned how things work in the ‘real world’ of legitimately acquired artwork. In the REAL world, agencies then contact the artist and secure an art acquisition license. Fallon’s people asked me if they could use the WOMBATS and the women-on-mountain bikes with tea idea for their client, Timex.
“Send me what you have in mind” I wrote back.
“We’d like to photograph a bunch of women riding around” wrote Karla Olmeda, their liaison.
I suggested we invite them to a Wombats Camp. At the time, the New Mexico WOMBATS chapter was raging along merrily, but wasn’t able to foot the bill for me to come out and teach. I coordinated a special Photo-Ho camp, for anyone who cared to come, and be photographed to death. Anyone who’s been in a photo shoot knows that you have to do the same thing twenty times for the director of photography to be happy. Thus: if I held a free camp, no one could whine about us not getting to ride enough, and Timex would have their clever “Oversteeped tea” campaign (below right).
Since Fallon put together two other advertising concepts as well, and Mr. Timex chose one of them, the WOMBAT camp was nixed….but Fallon McElligott was happy to pay a nine hundred dollar KILL FEE for taking up so much of my time and expertise. I sent half to the NM chapter, and pocketed the other half, suitably reimbursed for about twenty hour’s work.
At the same time, the Trek ad agency, Hanson Dodge +Sutter, was reproducing my site’s main page:
grouped beer bottles,
bikes laying against the door of the vintage trailer.
And most of all, the black-and-white photography itself.
I thought, well, I’ll write them a letter asking them for payment for creating their ad campaign.
Reader, I hope you’re as amused as I was by Laughlin’s comment “if there’s anything we can do for WOMBATS let us know”.
Like a molester asking for a date!
I invited Trek spokesman Gary Fisher out on an all-day ride that spring of 2000, asking for his help.
Said he: I can’t do anything, you have to have a legal team, etc.
SO I pedaled out to Pt. Reyes where local artist Art Rogers lived. He’d been ripped off by Jeff Koons, a millionaire who lifted Art’s photograph, had it carved into wood with extreme accuracy–without permission. Rogers won the precedent-setting litigation. SItting in his beautiful living room, I learned what a stressful three year slog he’d had to endure.
“I missed three years of my daughter’s life”.
He gave me the name and address of his lawyer, who worked in New York City. I happened to be going there in a few months, so I prepared a folio and shipped it off with a cover letter.
Since then, I’ve considered the dutifully trademarked and copyrighted work I’ve done to encourage women an unpaid (as most women’s work is) a gift. This is Charlie’s approach: when endowed with a gift, give it away freely. There’s an endless supply. Let it out into the world. And I do. But I am still grumpy about it when I discover I’ve been exploited. This might be a good place to add that I’ve been a rotten WOMBATS administrator, failing in most capacities after that heady period in the 1990’s…..
Should I be grateful to occasionally be permitted in the boy’s club?
At this point, if there is anything TREK would like to do to make things right for me and WOMBATS, “I’ll be happy to consider” a palliative offer. Talking to the higher ups like the Burke family probably wouldn’t get me anywhere, though. The following image pulled from Wikipedia hints that plagiarism might be company policy–Mary Burke’s family owns Trek.
Right now, I could use a round trip ticket to Japan for the months of September and October and about eight thousand dollars. Not a huge amount of dough considering it’s today’s money.
Should I hire a helper to get a Kickstarter campaign for my “Big In Japan” project?