By ENZO Di MATTEO
The two-headed media
monster owned by Torstar and Bell, toronto.com, has been trying for months
to run little guy Ritchie Sinclair and Toronto2.com out of town. This
week, though, the corporate big guys (Torstar is the corporation that owns
the Toronto Star, eye Weekly and a string of other papers) were dealt a
serious legal setback.
The toronto.com twosome
had filed an application in June asking a court to shut down Toronto2.com.
The claim, which also
asks for $500,000 in damages, alleges that the site -- which offers free
e-mail, forums and info on non-profit community groups -- is passing off
its Web wares and services "in such a way as to cause confusion" in the
On Monday, however,
a federal- court judge took a huge bite out of toronto.com's claim when
it said no to its request to temporarily shut down Toronto2.com. The judge's
formal reasons are expected later this week. The damages part of the suit
is still to be argued.
Zak Muscovitch, the
lawyer who took up Toronto2.com's fight after reading about it in NOW,
says Monday's decision renders the damages part of toronto.com's suit all
"I don't know what
their motives were in the first place, but there's very little law to back
up their position, and that's being charitable," Muscovitch says. "There
was never any real threat from Ritchie. It's an elephant-and-flea situation.
So why they were doing it is beyond me. I don't think they expected Ritchie
to defend this."
Merely by threatening
lawsuits, toronto.com has been able to send other local Web masters whose
site domain names happen to include the word "toronto" into Internet oblivion.
Take Robin Betel
Betel formed a ring
of Toronto-area Web sites at ilovetoronto.com. The problem arose when she
decided to dub the ring Toronto WebStars.
She was soon on the
receiving end of a letter threatening legal action from Torstar's lawyers.
Apparently, they had a problem with the use of the words "Toronto" and
So persnickety were
they that they even demanded Betel remove the blue background from her
Betel at one point
considered joining Sinclair in his fight, but the threat was enough to
bludgeon her into submission.
The two parties have
since come to an agreement whose terms Betel may not discuss, because she'd
"What needed to be
done is done," she says.
TorInfo.com and ctoronto.com
are other sites targeted by Torstar's lawyers. They, too, have reached
agreements they can't talk about.
Sinclair says he
doesn't subscribe to conspiracy theories, but he's been tracking a lot
of bizarre traffic on his Toronto2.com site ever since he decided to take
on Torstar and Bell.
A large forensic
auditing outfit seems to be particularly interested in his site.
Sinclair says it was
"scouring and scavenging," taking pages, supposedly gathering evidence
to help toronto.com's claim against him, hitting the site a total of 173
times over two days.
All this monkey business
surrounding the suit has Sinclair feeling a little dismayed. "These past
nine or 10 months I've seen some stuff, boy. I never know what to expect."
The Torstar- and
Bell-led conglomerate has also registered the domain names mississauga.com
and yorkregion.com, as well as aboutto.com. Domain names are registered
with Network Solutions Inc., an organization that allocates electronic
addresses on the Web.
But toronto.com has
sought to take its commercial interests a step further by trying to trademark
The Canadian Intellectual
Properties Office, however, has twice denied the request, citing a section
of the Trademarks Act that prohibits the registering of geographical locations.
There are hundreds
of businesses in the city who pay to advertise on toronto.com.
While it is not the
city's official Web site, it may appear to be to the casual observer.
It posts an Internet
city guide and directory.
Besides sharing links
on each other's sites, the toronto.com logo also appears, along with the
city of Toronto's official logo, on materials one might think should be
reserved for official city services.
These materials include
TTC route maps, station maps, system guides and even bus-stop poles.
site also far outdistances activity on the city's official Web site (www.city.toronto.on.ca),
averaging 96,000 hits a day compared to the city's 6,000.
The city's legal
department, which can take action against an organization that falsely
represents itself as being officially affiliated with the city, apparently
hasn't given the Internet enough thought to draft a policy.
"We're trying to
assess what our view is of the whole thing," says city lawyer Karl Druckman.
"I'm not sure the city would take a position that any use of the identifier
'Toronto' is invalid. You have to consider the use of the name and what
effect it has."
On this count, Druckman
adds, "If someone were to use the word 'Toronto' to provide a type of service
similar to what the city does (on its Web site) and is attempting to capitalize
on the name of the city or the image, that would raise very different considerations."
Isn't that what toronto.com
is doing? "I'm not prepared to comment on it," Druckman says.
Neither, it appears,
are Torstar's lawyers. Douglas Deeth and Diane Lacalamita both declined
to return phone calls.
Out in Winnipeg,
meanwhile, Ponder Romance Publishing, a small company that publishes romance
novels, is facing a trademark dispute of its own with Torstar-owned Harlequin
Harlequin is claiming
that Ponder Romance is not distinctive enough and may be confused with
some 14 trademarks registered by Harlequin with the word "romance" in them.
Says Ponder co-owner
Pamela Walford, "We don't think this is about the word 'romance.' It's
about competition being a threat, and eliminating competition while it's
ENZO Di MATTEO