December 19, 2019
Big expensive drama for Little Free Libraries
by Andréa Córdova
What’s in the box? This question, made famous by the movie Seven, strangely applies to a trademark dispute. Little Free Libraries have been covered for the past several years, garnering praise for their pleasantness, uniting communities, and their aesthetically pleasing look. Despite the perspective of something pure and convivial, there is an ugly battle brewing behind the scenes.
The founder of Little Free Libraries, Todd Bol, passed away in 2018 and now his family is in a dispute with the nonprofit over wordage on the libraries that are scattered throughout the U.S. The idea of the mini library began with Bp;’s wish to see every person with a book in their hand. He took wood from his own property, built the mini library with his own hands, and placed it right in front of his home. He had an inkling the idea would take off and it did. First it happened locally in his town of Hudson, Wisconsin, and it then spread nationwide.
The root of the dispute is from the tricky territory of trademarking. Signs of trouble began in late 2018—Bol’s brother Tony Bol started a for-profit company called Share With Others that sells things to put books in—like boxes. Little Free Library filed for trademark use of “Little Free Library” to be associated with “wooden boxes with a storage for books” this summer. Are you beginning to see where the trickiness is boiling? This was filed in response to a rise of copycats on Amazon and Etsy.
In September, Share With Others launched on Etsy, describing some of their objects for sale as “little libraries.” This invoked Little Free Libraries to step in, causing Tony to change the wordage on the products. He is claiming that this change cost him thousands of dollars. However, there is a difference between buying a box from Little Free Libraries, as it is registered in their large network of existing little libraries. Trademark cases are notoriously difficult, and the prospect of this certain case is unknown.
Andréa Córdova is a publicist at Melville House.