ST. PETERSBURG — For three years, a Florida man named Ryan Davis has run a Florida website called “floridaman.com” that features stories he's aggregated from various publications about the bumbling antics of the Sunshine State's ubiquitous superhero, Florida Man. You know the ones: “Florida Man drives Cadillac from sunroof down highway, says he'd rather go to jail than back to his wife,” and “Florida Man gets beat up by the Easter Bunny," and "Florida Man resists arrest by singing karaoke.”
Lately he's even started making money at it, selling T-shirts and other merchandise bearing slogans such as “Beware of Florida Man.”
Now the St. Petersburg resident has taken the next logical step. He recently applied for a trademark for the term “Florida Man.”
Davis said he isn't looking to seize control of the ubiquitous term so he can block other people from using it in reference to Florida's wacky news headlines.
After all, he's aware that there's a Twitter account called @_FloridaMan that's been around for six years and has 435,000 followers. And he knows about the “Florida Man Challenge” on social media, where you Google your birth date and “Florida Man” to see what sort of wackiness took place on the day you were born. He sees neither of those as a threat to what he calls his “side hustle.”
Instead, he's seeking to fight off anyone else's attempt to claim ownership. Davis said he became concerned about the future of the term when he saw that the Oxygen television network plans to launch a new reality show called “Florida Man.”
“When the murder is so bizarre, the motive so far-fetched and the crime so outlandish that it sounds like something from a Hollywood screenplay — there’s a good chance it was actually committed by a ‘Florida Man,’” the network said in its announcement earlier this month. “With access to Florida investigators and prosecutors, this series zeroes in on America’s most notorious, outrageous, craftiest killers from the Sunshine State.”
In other words, these aren't the more genteel stories like “Florida Man arrested for calling 911 after his kitten was denied entry into a strip club.” Instead, these will be the more tragic Florida tales, the ones full of blood and gore and the occasional face-eating zombie.
What worried Davis wasn't the tone, but rather the fact that Oxygen has applied to register the name of the show as a trademark for TV shows. Filing for a trademark is a defensive legal maneuver, he said.
“I don't want them to come after me and take my website away,” he said. He's poured about $2,500 into getting his operation up and running, he said, and he doesn't want to see it shut down just as it starts turning a profit.
But how do you trademark a phrase that's been so widely used by the public? That's the question asked by a skeptical Florida poet named Tyler Gillespie, who last year published a collection called F1orida Man: Poems. The book includes such poems as “Florida Woman repeatedly slapped grandma for rejecting Facebook friend request.”
The term “Florida Man” has become “part of the mythology of the state,” Gillespie said. “It shouldn't be able to be trademarked. No one can own that.”
Gillespie also pointed out that Davis' website is based on “actual people's lives that they are living in,” and not content that Davis himself created.
“That's a thing that a lot of people who create these memes forget: These are real people,” the poet said.
According to Largo trademark attorney Bill Larson, Davis can indeed trademark the term "Florida Man" — but only insofar as it's part of a product or service.
"You can only get a trademark registered for a product or service that you sell," he said, pointing out Davis' T-shirts as an example. "If it's a generic term that everyone uses — like escalator or elevator — those would not be able to be registered."
Davis has only just put in his application, so he's still got some time to go before he finds out if his trademark application has been accepted. He said he knows of one other person who has put in an application for the same trademark, so there could be a three-way custody battle over “Florida Man.”
Although Davis' website features a lot of mugshots, he was reluctant to share his own photo with the Times. Incidentally, Davis shares a trait with about two-thirds of Florida's 21 million residents: He's not from Florida. He’s originally from California, which in pre-Internet days used to be considered the weirdest state in the union.
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Contact Craig Pittman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @craigtimes.