The use of the words "Conch Republic" has erupted into a court case pitting a Key Largo nonprofit business group against a Key West entrepreneur.
The Upper Keys Business Group Inc. has filed a lawsuit asking circuit Judge Luis Garcia for a declaratory judgment allowing it to present an Upper Keys' version of the Conch Republic Independence Celebration, an event that has been celebrated in Key West since 1990.
The nonprofit recently sued Peter Anderson for the right to use the term "Conch Republic" as part of the name for a planned April festival, to be held at the same time the festival is held in Key West. The group also is asking for the release of $18,500 that has been earmarked by the Monroe County Tourist Development Council for the event.
"He seems to think we're stealing his idea," said Jim Turner, president of the Upper Keys Business Group. "He wanted to charge us all kinds of money for the event. He's making money for himself. We're just trying to rejuvenate the Upper Keys."
Anderson, 62, who refers to himself as secretary general of the Conch Republic, said the conflict is not about money. He said the use of the words "Conch Republic" associated with any festival is his intellectual property.
"How do you think Fantasy Fest would react if an Upper Keys group decided to hold a Fantasy Fest on the same date?" he asked. "They are welcome to be part of the Conch Republic, but this is my property. I own it.
"To establish ownership of intellectual property you have to use it and defend it, just as Jimmy Buffett defended the use of the term 'Coconut Telegraph.' I don't necessarily agree with that, but Buffett's lawyers are aware that you must use it and defend it or lose it," he said. "I spent 20 years building a monolithic image of the Conch Republic and how it presents itself to the world. I will go to the wall defending this."
According to Anderson's Web site, ConchRepublic.com, the term "Conch Republic" refers to all of the Florida Keys with Key West as the capital of the fictitious nation. All territories north of Key West are referred to as the "Northern Territories."
Robert DiGiorgio, a Key Largo business owner who has spearheaded the festival for the Upper Keys Business Group, said Anderson wanted 50 percent of whatever gross the Upper Keys festival might earn.
"It's like owning the name of 'The Fourth of July,' " DiGiorgio said of Anderson's claim to "Conch Republic."
Anderson said he wanted 50 percent of the net after the event started earning a profit.
"No disrespectful people can take over the Conch Republic through a lawsuit," he said. "Don't push me. I have to defend my property. I own the festival."