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Jack Daniel's To Author: Cease And Desist


One way of contemplating life's great mysteries is to sit back and relax with, say, a nice glass of whiskey - Jack Daniel's, for instance, a good Tennessee sour mash. Well, one fan of Jack Daniel's is author Patrick Wensink. In fact, if you've got his latest novel, "Broken Piano for President," you may notice something familiar, something that looks like a black label on a bottle. The book's cover has those white on black curly cues and vintage type, only instead of Jack Daniel's it says the book's title. It's a perfect pairing for a novel about a man who's more often soused than not. Patrick Wensink says when the book came out in March...

PATRICK WENSINK: It didn't sell anywhere near what I hoped it would. You know, it's hard to get people's attention in the book world, and I was finding out the hard way.

GREENE: But in July, somebody noticed.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) Dear Mr. Wensink, I am an attorney at Jack Daniel's Properties Incorporated, JDPI, in California.

WENSINK: I got an email from the Jack Daniel's legal team.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) it has recently come to our attention that the cover of your book, "Broken Piano for President," bears a design that closely mimics the style and distinctive elements of the Jack Daniel's trademark.

WENSINK: And I started thinking, oh no, this is not good.

GREENE: But maybe not so bad, Patrick.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) As an author, you can certainly understand our position and the need to contact you. You may have even run into similar problems in your own intellectual property. In order to resolve this matter, because you're both a Louisville neighbor and a fan of the brand...

GREENE: I mean, from one southern gentleman to another.

WENSINK: Well, it was from a female named Christy, who was the lawyer - so, she wasn't a gentleman. But she was being very southernly hospitable.

GREENE: So hospitable that Jack Daniel's simply asked Patrick to change the cover art when the book was reprinted. The company even offered to pay for the redesign themselves.

WENSINK: Right there is incredibly generous and nice because that would have been a humungous financial hit. We declined that offer but it was very generous of them.

GREENE: Declined?

WENSINK: I grew up in Ohio, but I'm learning the ways of being a southern gentleman.

GREENE: Man, and he's got to like Jack Daniel's even more now, right?

WENSINK: Boy, you know, you're painting me into a corner here. I live in Kentucky and Kentucky's a bourbon state. And anybody from Kentucky will be quick to tell you that Jack Daniel's is not bourbon, it's whiskey. But I'll tell you what - if anything's changing my tune, it's this. Because it's been an incredible week here, and it's thanks to getting a cease and desist letter from Jack Daniel's.


GREENE: That letter came to author Patrick Wensink. He wrote the novel "Broken Piano for President." You can still get it with its original, controversial cover - but not for too much longer.


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.