The premise for History's new Hatfield and McCoy reality show is pretty straightforward: The two warring clans struggle to overcome their differences as they develop a real-life moonshine brand.
On camera, that appears to be where things are headed, according to episode descriptions posted on the website of "Hatfields and McCoys: White Lightning," which is set in the backwoods of West Virginia. But off camera, a dispute is brewing involving complicated trademark law -- and you guessed it -- a family feud.
On the show the families partner with Monsell Darville, a former Bacardi USA executive. "This is a real business coming to life inside a docu-reality TV show," Mr. Darville said. The venture, called Hatfield & McCoy Alliance, includes patriarchs Mark Hatfield and Jim Quick (a McCoy), according to a statement from an investor group partnering with the families. The investors, led by Mr. Darville, have filed for trademark protection for "The Legendary Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine." The group hopes to launch the brand by year's end with aggressive plans to take it national.
But another member of the Hatfield family is pursuing a separate moonshine brand outside of the show called "Hatfield & McCoy Moonshine the Drink of Devil Anse Hatfield." This venture includes Mark Hatfield's sister, Nancy Justus Hatfield, who has also sought trademark protection. Ms. Justus Hatfield, who is the great, great granddaughter of Devil Anse Hatfield, said moonshining is in her blood. "My daddy was a moonshiner," she said. "I know a little bit about it."
But Mr. Danville called her brand a "rogue entity" that does not have a right to the McCoy name because the venture only includes a Hatfield. Greg Chiartas, a lawyer representing the Devil Anse brand, said both businesses have a right to the names. "We have a McCoy," he said, although he would not identify the person. "In southern West Virginia, it's not that hard to find a Hatfield or a McCoy," he said.
The dispute has not made it to court and sounds a little too scripted to be true. But both sides swear the battle is real. "It is not a PR ploy to bolster the project," Mr. Darville said. "If anything it's been a bit of an embarrassing nuisance."
The brand featured on the show could have a leg up because its trademark filing date of March 6 is earlier than that of the Devil Anse brand, which shows a filing date of March 7, said Daliah Saper, an intellectual-property attorney in Chicago who reviewed the case for Ad Age.
But it gets complicated: People have a right to put their last name on a product, unless that name is already identified with a competing product already in market, she added. So whichever Hatfield moonshine gets to market first might gain the advantage.