CanWest wants to poach gay magazine's name

By Charlie Smith, Georgia Straight

A small, independent magazine in Winnipeg has a lot to celebrate. Swerve, owned by Swerve Media Inc., is about to mark its 12th anniversary as a voice for the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community.

Many of its contributors have been on the vanguard of advancing equal rights. A former editor and publisher, Gilles Marchildon, went on to become executive director of Egale Canada, which led the fight for same-sex marriage in Canada. Another former editor and Swerve’s current treasurer, Richard Wood, is senior editor at The Beaver, a Winnipeg-based historical magazine that recently won two Western Magazine Awards.

Swerve is used to confronting bullies. And now, the nonprofit magazine is in a showdown with one of the country’s largest media conglomerates, CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc. If Goliath prevails, Swerve might have to give up its name.

Dennis Skulsky is president and CEO of CanWest MediaWorks Publications. For now, he is also listed as president and publisher of the CanWest MediaWorks division that owns the Vancouver Sun and Province.

The problem began in October 2004, when the CanWest-owned Calgary Herald Group Ltd. applied for a trademark on the name Swerve. The Calgary Herald later launched an entertainment magazine called Swerve. CanWest MediaWorks Publications, which was created last year, is now the applicant for the trademark. The Asper family controls the Winnipeg-based parent company, CanWest Global Communications Corp., which recorded $3 billion in revenue last year.

Wood told the Georgia Straight that he believes Swerve (Winnipeg) already has a trademark under common law. “I sent letters to both Gail and David Asper,” Wood recalled. “The only response we ever got was from their lawyers.”

The Swerve (Winnipeg) office is in the same city block as CanWest Global Communications Corp.’s headquarters. According to Wood, CanWest’s office casts a shadow over the home of Swerve (Winnipeg).

“I took a small-town attitude that it was something we could just talk about and work out face-to-face because we were in the same block,” Wood recalled. “We were in the same city. We were both publishers. I never expected it would become a confrontation like this.”

On April 25, 2005, Swerve (Winnipeg) filed an objection with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office to the trademark application. Wood said that the small publication’s lawyer has suggested it will cost $30,000 to see it through to the end. CanWest MediaWorks could theoretically appeal the Canadian Intellectual Property Office decision all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. That would increase the costs exponentially for Swerve (Winnipeg).

“We’re trying to negotiate a settlement,” Wood said. “They’re not being cooperative.”

He added that CanWest has suggested that Swerve (Winnipeg) only distribute in Winnipeg, which does not have a CanWest daily paper. Wood said his group refused because it would stifle future growth and prevent them from sending magazines to readers in other cities, including Calgary and Vancouver.

CanWest spokesperson Geoffrey Elliott told the Straight that lawyers are discussing the matter, and the company wouldn’t comment any further than that. “We’ll see what comes out at the end,” he said.

Meanwhile, Swerve (Calgary) was named magazine of the year at the Western Magazine Awards on July 7 in Vancouver. One of the judges in the category happened to be Kalle Lasn, cofounder of the Vancouver-based Adbusters Media Foundation and a fierce critic of CanWest.

Wood said he knows that CanWest will never be able to take away the accomplishments of Swerve (Winnipeg) contributors. He predicted that the publication will carry on with or without the name Swerve. “All of this is the name,” Wood said. “But it still hurts every time I see them using that name and succeeding.”

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