Can a drinking game be trademarked? Local musician Ali Spagnola hopes not. | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Can a drinking game be trademarked? Local musician Ali Spagnola hopes not.

Ali Spagnola expected to raise eyebrows by releasing an album of 60 one-minute songs about drinking, entitled Power Hour, and turning her shows into a bring-your-own-shot-glass drinking game. She certainly didn't expect backlash from a fellow power-hour entrepreneur. 

"Power hour," as many undergrads can tell you, involves drinking a shot of beer every minute for an hour. Spagnola incorporated the drinking-game idea into her music because she wanted her friends to actually have fun at her shows. "I was playing live at coffee shops and I would get my friends to come and it was really a chore," she says. "You weren't really going to a party -- you were going to a boring recital." Her shows became quite a hit, and she has since released a play-at-home DVD, which includes videos for each of the Liz Phair-esque songs.

But whether Spagnola can legally use the name "Power Hour" is in question. Steve Roose says he has been marketing a DVD game of the same name since 2000 (online at Roose recently trademarked the name, and has issued a cease-and-desist order, which would require Spagnola to remove all videos from her website, stop selling her CDs and DVDs, and stop playing power-hour-themed shows.

Roose's DVD, hosted by an animated character called The Beer Man, basically acts as a stop-watch, telling players when to drink, and incorporating dares like "give someone a 'wet willy' or take another shot!"

Spagnola thinks she can challenge Roose's claims. To cover legal expenses, she launched an online fundraising campaign last week at, offering a range of incentives, from an album download ($5 donation) to an original song written for the donor ($3,000).

Michael J. Madison, who teaches intellectual-property law at University of Pittsburgh, stresses that no one can trademark a phrase that is merely descriptive. "If 'Power Hour' is a generic description of 'a drinking game that involves drinking a shot of alcohol each minute for an hour,' then Mr. Roose can't have any trademark rights at all."

Winning a case like this, Madison says, usually depends on finding that the trademark holder was not the first to use the phrase to sell or market a product, or that "the trademark isn't actually associated by consumers with a service that the registrant provides." In any case, Madison says, Spagnola might merely need to change the name of her event and DVDs: "He can't stop her from singing or recording one-minute songs."