A newspaper launched by activists from Occupy Chicago and journalists loosely associated with the Occupy movement in Chicago face the possibility of losing the website for their newspaper. The Tribune Company has submitted a complaint to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to force the transfer of ownership of two domains from those involved in the newspaper to the Tribune.
Journalists involved in the newspaper, which is called the Occupied Chicago Tribune, found out the Tribune was going before the Geneva-based WIPO to have the domain transferred last week when they received a solicitation email from a New York law firm. It said the Tribune had filed for a “Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) proceeding” on May 24 because the Tribune believes the Occupy newspaper is using the domain—OccupiedChicagoTribune.org—in “bad faith.” It also said that the name of the newspaper is “confusingly similar” to the Tribune’s newspaper, the Chicago Tribune.
By Thursday, the Occupied Chicago Tribune must submit a response to the Tribune’s complaint. A single-member administrative panel will then do a review and decide in favor of one of the parties. If the Occupied Chicago Tribune loses, an appeal can be filed. An appellate panel will hear the case. If they lose at this level, there is a possibility the case would end up in a court in the jurisdiction of the party that is the subject of the complaint.
The arguments made by the Tribune are not new to the journalists involved in the newspaper. Just after publication of their first issue in December, the Tribune threatened legal action.
Joel Handley, a reporter for the Occupied Chicago Tribune and part of the original group that started the newspaper, recalls being contacted by a representative of the Tribune Company after he did an interview with the magazine, Time Out Chicago, last year. Those involved in the newspaper did not want a legal fight, but then the company made it apparent that they wanted the paper to change the font, the masthead and the paper could not be any name that began with a “T” (e.g. Occupied Chicago Times). When they realized how the company was coming after the paper, they decided to get legal representation.
Lawyers from the People’s Law Office in Chicago agreed to push back and help them assert their First Amendment right. Ben Elson says they replied to the Tribune’s complaint by stating the Occupied Chicago Tribune was a parody, satire or commentary on the Chicago Tribune. The Tribune backed down.
Now, the Tribune is using an entity that Elson describes as being a body setup to handle disputes over “abusive registrations of domain names” where people have tried to “profit off of someone’s established website or trademark.” This fact alone should lead a reasonable person to conclude the complaint lacks “merit.”
“My clients do not profit from publishing their newspaper or their website,” explains Elson. “And they didn’t choose their domain name to disrupt the Chicago Tribune’s business. He adds, “There’s obviously no likelihood of confusion between the website names. I think only an imbecile could believe that the Occupied Chicago Tribune is the Chicago Tribune‘s website.”
For Nick Burt, a journalist who helped start the newspaper, this action isn’t entirely surprising. The company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings since September of 2008. It has laid off hundreds of members of its news rooms “claiming there is not enough money to pay for the work they sell.” Somehow the company can find the money for a lawyer and file a claim with the WIPO that cost $1500. This is “how they operate as a paper of the 1%”
Miles Kampf-Lassin, a journalist who has also been involved in the newspaper from the beginning, notes the Tribune has gone to court to fight to give millions of dollars in bonuses to four hundred people in top management positions, even as the company is in bankruptcy proceedings. They truly represent a model of news that values profit over public service.
The Occupied Chicago Tribune was started to challenge this kind of news operation. It was launched to “criticize the role of corporate media.” Inspired by the Occupied Wall Street Journal published by the Occupy Wall Street group in New York, Lassin says, “One of the things we kind of saw as the most salient and engaging part of the argument that the Occupy movement made is this critique of corporate power in our society and in everyday facets of our lives. And we thought that the media is a very important part of that.”
In November, the paper formed outside of a General Assembly at the corner of Congress and Michigan. Activists, journalist and occupiers all discussed this idea of having an Occupy paper in Chicago. The paper then went through different formations. And, Lassin adds, it became clear that the paper would function as “an outreach tool for the movement so we could bring people into it and let people know a more honest story about what was happening with the activist and organizing around Occupy Chicago.” It would also address “ridicule” and “distortion” on the Occupy movement in the media and cover stories that often go underreported in Chicago, like keeping public schools open, austerity cuts, foreclosures and evictions, etc.
Various other Occupy groups in the country have published their own newspapers. Few groups have been challenged by media organizations for “occupying” their newspapers. For example, News Corp has decided to not attract attention by going after the Occupied Wall Street Journal. On the other hand, the Oakland Tribune sent the Occupied Oakland Tribune a cease and desist order a few months ago.
Scott Johnson, a journalist with the Occupy newspaper in Oakland, says the paper fought back and made a “big stink” about it. He finds the Chicago Tribune is basically trying to “bully” Occupy Chicago into “shutting down” the newspaper.
“The fact that they couldn’t call it the Chicago Times means renaming it wasn’t enough. They wanted it to go away,” he adds.
There are a couple of realities at play that make the matter difficult for those involved in the Occupied Chicago Tribune. The suit is coming just after a major week of protest against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit that was held in Chicago. Over a hundred were arrested. Five of the arrestees were charged with terrorism-related charges. The same office of lawyers that handled those cases, along with cases of individuals who feel their rights were violated during the summit, is also the office that is representing the Occupied Chicago Tribune.
The Tribune’s lawyers, according to Lassin, are “very familiar” with the fact that the Occupied Chicago Tribune‘s lawyers are operating on a pro-bono basis and are involved in the National Lawyers Guild and the People’s Law Office, which are the organizations that are taking on the majority of the cases to come out of NATO protests.” They know they are “overloaded” with casework. That likely played into the decision to bring a complaint just now.
The extralegal pursuit also seems to be similar to “policing strategies” that have been used against the Occupy movement. Joe Macare, a journalist who writes for the Occupied Chicago Tribune, highlights the arrests that have been coming to court in New York and notes the NYPD is not necessarily trying to get convictions. Charges are just being dismissed or dropped, which is acceptable because the NYPD’s “intention was never to secure a conviction.” The intent was to arrest people and “scare them and anyone who sees the arrests into not dissenting.” So, now, this media company is coming after the Occupied Chicago Tribune and is attempting to send a message to one of the few dissenting media organizations in Chicago. They don’t really have to win in the US courts or before the WIPO. They just have to put enough pressure on the Occupy newspaper so that the people involved decide they have to quit producing the publication.
Finally, the Occupied Chicago Tribune is a “volunteer non-incorporated organization.” This means the Tribune cannot legally sue or bring legal action against the paper or loose coalition of journalists itself. The company can, however, come after the person who registered the domain name for the newspaper and that is what the Tribune is doing.