Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
CALIFORNIA – Two celebrated Humboldt-grown ukulele players are at odds, with one alleging that the other stole her marketing idea.
Musician Lyndsey Battle alleges that musician Josephine Johnson lifted her idea for an advertising flyer verbatim. A hand-lettered flyer Battle says she created four years ago reads, “Does your dog have fleas!? I can help! Uke Lessons.” A more recent, computer-generated flyer by Johnson reads, “Does your dog have fleas? I can help! Ukulele lessons.”
The matter became public Thursday in an email message from Battle titled, "I have been plagiarized by Josephine Johnson.”
The email included side-by-side images of the two flyers, with the message, “According to an intellectual property lawyer, her use of my creative material is also a copyright violation. she is not responding to my requests to take it down. i find it extremely ironic that in her version, she advertises creative writing as one of her skills. I'm beyond frustrated.”
Battle said the alleged misappropriation is just the latest in a continuing series of affronts by Johnson. “She’s copied my style over the years, but this is the first time she’s used my words,” Battle said. “She’s a thief.”
Johnson, now a Los Angeles resident, said Battle’s claim to the “Does your dog have fleas?” slogan is unfounded. “An unfortunate coincidence,” Johnson wrote in response to a query. “‘my dog has fleas’ has a melody that students use to remember the notes of the strings – even though the words do not correspond to notes. It's pretty universal. Also, I don't teach ukulele in Humboldt County.”
Battle said that while the uke-tuning phrase is common, it was she that adapted as the question, “Does your dog have fleas?”
“I’ve never seen it before,” Battle said. “I came up with it myself.”
Battle said she became aware of the flyer after Johnson contacted her asking for publicity for an upcoming tour on radio station KHUM, where Battle hosts a program. “I saw my words being used as though they were hers,” Battle said. “I feel that I deserve an explanation.”
After being contacted by a reporter, Johnson said she called Battle and left a voicemail. “I think it best that she and I figure this out,” Johnson said.
But Battle said she wanted a record of their communication, and didn’t plan to call Johnson back, as she wanted everything in writing.
Battle said that if Johnson didn’t remove the allegedly copied flyer by Sunday night, she was going to contact an attorney and have a cease and desist letter sent to Johnson.
“I taught her how to tune a ukulele,” Battle said. “It’s very clear to me that she stole this idea.”
Friday, the two exchanged open letters, which appear below.
Letter from Josephine Johnson to Lyndsey Battle
An open letter to Lindsey Battle:
I am distressed to hear you say that my "Does Your Dog Have Fleas" flyer is an act of plagiarism.
Those who know me well would understand that I could never resort to such an abhorrent activity.
My poster's background: While living and performing in Southern California these past couple years, I held a day job and also offered ukulele lessons. For poster design, one evening in October 2014, I brainstormed with Wallie Mason, who helped me arrive at the obvious/silly variation on "My Dog Has Fleas," a song used in tuning ukuleles and often joked about among uke players. We bandied it around to the "Does Your Dog Have Fleas?" format, answering it with the short & sweet "I Can Help!" Since Wallie's dog and my uke were at hand, we photographed them together, added a my photo and a listing of credentials. We set everything together in my preferred style, including crisply formatted contact info in pull-off tags at the bottom of the flyer.
I was flummoxed to discover how angrily you reacted to my poster. While I can see we both chose "Does Your Dog Have Fleas?" for our announcement heading, we arrived at our choices by separate paths of creativity. You and I aren't the first uke artists to use that phrase. The internet has several examples of uke players offering education and advice; there are uke articles and listings titled "Does Your Dog Have Fleas?" Just do a search on the phrase... examples will pop up, by other creative people who also made good use of the phrase.
Until you brought it to my attention, I had never set eyes on your poster. Yes, I see similarities - and I see even more differences, in content and in layout style. We are two different artists, with two different styles, who creatively employed a commonplace ukulele cliche term in two very different creative ways.
Lindsey, I am very sorry that this creative coincidence is causing so much distress. I respect your creativity very much... and I wish for Peace between us.
Letter from Lyndsey Battle to Josephine Johnson
It is unclear to me why you didn't respond to my initial inquiry days ago and decided to respond publicly. Have you been into Wildwood Music or Redwood Yogurt in the past four years? If so, you would have seen my poster. You have been weird with me in the past sending me emails stating "Humboldt isn't big enough for the both of us." Though you may dispute plagiarism, as soon as I hung the image in a public place it became protected under copyright law. Your use of the poster is violating copyrighted material. My dog had fleas before you even had a dog. You can quote me on that. I continue to find your behavior confusing, and urge you to take your version out of circulation.