Anyone who looked at the front page of today's Cincinnati Enquirer saw a prominent advertisement along the bottom featuring an image of a treasure chest and announcing, “Roadshow is in town all week in Cincinnati!”
To the uninitiated, it might appear as if the popular TV show Antiques Roadshow is taping an episode in the Queen City. The program uses a similar image and logo, after all. And that’s exactly why WGBH-TV in Boston filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 23 in Illinois against the company that placed the ad, Treasure Hunters Roadshow.
Treasure Hunters used the ad to publicize its event this week at the Duke Energy Convention Center. Unlike Antiques Roadshow, Treasure Hunters doesn’t appraise items and tries to buy some antiques that people bring in for the lowest price possible.
WGBH, which produces the show seen on PBS outlets across the nation, including WCET-TV (Channel 48), alleges the company is guilty of trademark infringement through its name and marketing tactics. It has sued the Illinois-based firm and its owner, Jeffrey Parsons, seeking an injunction to prevent use of the name and image.
As first noted by Bill Sloat on his Daily Bellwether blog, the flap over “fair use” issues has received extensive media coverage in Illinois.
Ironically, The Enquirer ran the ad just days after its editor, Tom Callinan, wrote a column criticizing unnamed blogs, Web sites and radio stations of unfairly and illegally using the newspaper’s content.
“(O)thers are profiting from our work,” Callinan wrote. “We're no longer willing to idly watch our good efforts stolen.”
As a result, The Enquirer is using a software program called Attributor to track users of its contents, gauge if the use is improper and issue warnings to alleged violators.
“In an attempt to track down such content parasites, The Enquirer and Cincinnati.Com now employ technology that scours the media landscape for illegal use of our content,” Callinan wrote. “In recent weeks, we have sent warnings to several blogs, Web sites and radio stations.
“We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.”
Callinan didn’t, however, attribute that last line to Network, the Oscar-winning 1976 film about a banal media outlet run amok in pursuit of profits and ratings. The line is uttered by unhinged TV talk show host Howard Beale, famously played by Peter Finch.
Several local bloggers were upset by Callinan’s column, calling it heavy-handed and reminding them of Big Brother with its weird “we’re watching you” vibe. They’re wondering who – exactly – he’s alleging has made improper use of the newspaper’s content. Several blogs often post items commenting on news reported by The Enquirer or criticizing its coverage, but they generally attribute the newspaper and help drive Internet traffic to its site.
Sloat e-mailed Callinan asking for more details, but the editor remained vague.
“(T)he recent ones have been small blogs and websites who may simply not know better. I don't want to out them. We handle it with automated warnings (via a program called Attributor) and it usually goes away without escalation,” Callinan responded. “My threshold for getting into a public outing of the issue would be pretty high — repeated incidents, warnings and letters from our lawyers. Just hasn't risen to that level.”
Of course, if the problem hasn’t risen to that level, why write such a high-profile and accusatory column about it?
So far, The Enquirer hasn’t reported on the lawsuit against its advertiser. Maybe the dispute “just hasn’t risen to that level” either.