My first cease and desist letter

🏁Here’s the story of my first cease and desist letter, and what I learned from that experience.

TL;DR… in business-building at any stage you will encounter friction. It’s not supposed to be easy. Push forward and turn the setbacks into advantages.

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The year was 2005 and I was gearing up to take my t-shirt company to the next level. Well, at that point it was more of just transitioning from hawking a couple of my initial designs to more of an actual business.

Step 1? Logo!

Without getting into the philosophy of why I called the brand “Welcome to the Zoo”, I headed to Google image search for inspiration. That’s where I discovered and loved this lion emblem.

I played with the lion graphic in photoshop, interweaving different fonts and trying to make it my own. After a few hours of work I called it done. I felt really, really good about this logo. It felt regal, and it felt like me.

This is the original logo design which I still proudly wear after 15 years. ☺️

Fast forward about a hundred t-shirt sales later, and I was surprised to receive a cease and desist letter in the mail. What! No way!

The funny thing is, and I remember this well, is that it felt REALLY GOOD to get that letter. I felt like I HAD MADE IT.

How is that a college freshman deep in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts can attract the attention of a real company, and a real lawyer? I also had a real company… but I didn’t have real lawyers. And I knew their claim was right–I had taken their image and used it as my own.

Thankfully that was pretty early on in the business and didn’t result in any significant costs. I changed the logo (this time around to a silhouette of a gorilla) and built up a brand over the next couple of years that was relatively successful (I was able to buy a used Accord and had beer money throughout college 🍻).


➡️This this story taught me a fundamental lesson about what originality means (and doesn’t mean) in the context of copyright law.

➡️One of the deeper lessons I took away is that in business-building at any stage you will encounter friction. It’s not supposed to be easy. At the end of the day, you are trying to capture value in a unique way, and you might hit a snag like receiving a cease and desist letter. There are no instructions or guidebook on how to capture value, and sometimes there’s no better way to learn than to just go forth and conquer.