Cease and desist? I don't think so

| October 9, 2008
This is a tale of two cities - and two cease and desist orders. The cities are Cambridge and Calgary. First, to Cambridge.Back in September 2003 Torstar turned out the lights at Canadaâe(TM)s oldest newspaper, the Cambridge Reporter. The Reporter had been a viable paper for 157 years. Torstar gave the community five days notice before ending its historic paperâe(TM)s publication. When Torstar dropped the Reporter it also let the domain names associated with it lapse. Fast forward five years.

Colin Carmichael, then a strategist with the Social Media Group in Dundas, Ontario, wanted to dive into citizen journalism. He knew his way around writing and Wordpress (a popular blogging platform) and he lived in Cambridge. He also knew that his fellow Cambridgians had a soft spot for the abandoned Cambridge Reporter. So, Carmichael grabbed the cambridgereporter.ca domain, and launched an online citizen journalism site for his city.

At first it was just Carmichael posting. Then former Reporter journalist Scot Ferguson-Barber got wind of his old paperâe(TM)s electronic rebirth and spent a week evangelizing the new enterprise.

Soon citizen journalists across the city were tossing in their two cents worth and local advertisers got interested. That was in spring of this year. Fast forward again, this time to last week. Carmichael got a phone call from Torstarâe(TM)s legal department. It was a friendly call, says Carmichael. They just wanted to let him know that, in fact, The Cambridge Reporter was their trademark and they would like him to stop using it. When Carmichael started his venture in June he had also checked out cambridgereporter.com and noticed it wasnâe(TM)t being used either.

But, after he started his venture, and after he spotted Torstar traffic to cambridgereporter.ca, Torstar cloned content from another of their properties and poured it onto a reborn cambridgereporter.com.

âeoeIt seems to me that were preparing for a fight with me by showing they were actively using the trademark,âe Carmichael told me. There was no need. Carmichael happily gave up the name: his citizen journalism project is now called The Cambridge Voice: The Tree-Free Way to Have Your Say. He feels he got all the cachet from the name in the early days. âeoeNow nobody cares what itâe(TM)s called as long as itâe(TM)s there,âe he says.

Carmichael says no one from Torstarâe(TM)s business department has called him about buying a âeoewhite labelâe version of his citizen journalism site. No publisher has asked him to come and speak about what he managed to do. Nobody in the newsroom has invited him to talk about hyper-local citizen journalism. They just set the lawyers on him. Interesting. Now, to Calgary.

Mark Pavlidis is a young iPhone application developer in Hamilton, Ontario. Heâe(TM)s written a very handy application that allows you to see images from the traffic cameras for Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary. You pick a route, pick the cameras you want to view and flip from one to the next on your iPhone. The application links out to the images stored on each cityâe(TM)s website.

Last week Pavlidis also got a cease and desist warning, this in the form of an email from the Transportation Department of the City of Calgary. The email informs Pavlidis that in order to use the traffic images, his company will have to sign a $5,000 per year licensing agreement with the city. But Pavlidis is only linking to the cityâe(TM)s images, the way you would if you were pointing to them from your blog, or the way Google does to images worldwide millions of times a day, generating revenue from that service every microsecond.

But whether or not Calgary is in the right or not isnâe(TM)t my point here. This is: Pavlidis has created a gem of an application that helps Calgarians get to work safely and as quickly as possible. The Transportation Department might want to, I donâe(TM)t know, sponsor the development and improvement of the application, encourage Pavlidis to create more traffic-oriented mobile tools or invite him to talk about how mobile technology might be used for traffic control. In fact, Pavlidis would love to gather crowdsourced traffic data from iPhone users and give that valuable real-time data back to Calgary. If they slap him with a cease and desist that isnâe(TM)t going to happen. And if they force him to pay a licensing fee heâe(TM)ll just have to kill the application, he told me.

So, this is how young Canadian online innovators are rewarded, with knee jerk legal responses? Itâe(TM)s not like Torstar couldnâe(TM)t stand to learn something about social media and creating online community. And, itâe(TM)s not like Canadian municipalities couldnâe(TM)t stand to get a few lessons in making commuting smarter and safer.

But, Carmichael and Pavlidis wonâe(TM)t be there to help them. Theyâe(TM)ll be too busy doing the next cool project far beyond the shortsightedness of Torstar or Calgary.

Carmichaelâe(TM)s now heading up social media communication for the Presbyterian Church in Canada and Pavlidis, a McMaster Software Engineering student, is keen to tackle new mobile vistas.

Neither has any plans to cease or desist.

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