School Sues to Win Battle of Newspaper Names : One High Tide Washes Out the Other
Facing a $300,000 lawsuit and the prospect of a costly trial, publishers of High Tide, News for the Beach, announced Wednesday that the newspaper will change its name.
The South Bay Union High School District filed the lawsuit Monday in Torrance Superior Court, alleging that the 5-month-old Manhattan Beach publication stole its name from the Redondo Union High School student newspaper, which has been called High Tide for 67 years.
The suit seeks $100,000 in damages from each of the paper’s founders--publisher Brian McClure and executive editor Jill Gottesman--and $100,000 from Peer Productions Inc., a corporation set up by McClure and Gottesman to publish the biweekly newspaper, which is distributed free in Manhattan Beach.
The suit also seeks an injunction to stop Peer Productions from publishing under the High Tide name during litigation. Although Peer Productions registered the High Tide name as a trademark in March, the school district claims in the suit that it possesses common-law rights to the name. A hearing on the request is scheduled for July 15.
“It is a matter of cutting our losses,” McClure said Wednesday, shortly after telling South Bay Supt. Walter Hale that the newspaper would like to settle out of court. “If the intent of the complaint was to intimidate us, it worked.”
McClure said the newspaper’s attorney estimated that it would cost the fledgling publication between $20,000 and $30,000 to fight the school district in court.
“It was a matter of deciding where our energies should be spent,” McClure said. “When we received the complaint we basically realized we were up against a school district that is way above us in resources. . . . We were never looking for a fight.”
David Sussin, outgoing editor of the high school student newspaper who first asked McClure in February to change the name, called McClure’s decision a victory for the high school.
“I am relieved,” said Sussin, who will attend UCLA in the fall. “It feels good to have started something, to take it all the way and finish it. I just don’t know why they didn’t do it before.”
Sussin and other student journalists at Redondo High sought the name change as soon as they learned of the new paper in Manhattan Beach. Although Peer Productions distributes all 17,000 copies of its paper in Manhattan Beach, Sussin said advertisers and Redondo alumni in Manhattan Beach would confuse the paper with the high school publication, which prints about 2,500 copies.
The lawsuit accuses Peer Productions of choosing the High Tide name to “palm off to the general public, including advertisers and potential advertisers, its product” as the high school newspaper.
But until Wednesday, McClure and Gottesman had refused to change the name, arguing that the two newspapers had separate readerships and advertisers and that they would not be mistaken for one another.
In an effort to reach a compromise, Peer Productions had offered to add an “s” to Tide to make it plural, and to print a disclaimer inside the paper explaining its independence from the high school publication. Neither suggestion was acceptable to the school district.
Margaret Lee, adviser to the student newspaper, said she will ask the school board to seek compensation from Peer Productions for the cost of hiring an attorney to fight the publishers.
“We don’t mean ill will toward them,” Lee said. “I hope they flourish under their new name. But I think it is only fair that they pay the attorney fees. We gave them ample notice of our intention to sue. I can only assume they felt we would never really file a suit.”
Don B. Finkelstein, the attorney hired by the district to file the suit, said the court action will continue until the school board decides whether it wants to settle out of court. He would not say how much he will charge the school district for his services. The trustees are scheduled to meet July 9.
McClure said he will send a letter to Hale asking that the school district accept an out-of-court settlement that would require the paper to change its name. McClure said he will ask for six months to choose the new name and make the transition.
“We would like to come up with a name that will represent the life style and the quality of writing and art that we are known for,” McClure said. “What we are concerned about is that our readers and advertisers hang in there with us. And we think they will.”
Lee said the student newspaper will register the High Tide name as a trademark with the state as soon as Peer Productions withdraws its registration.
McClure said Peer Productions will make sure it newspaper’s new name has no local significance.
“It was an unfortunate coincidence, and we are paying for it,” he said. “With the new name, we will be very careful, and research it beyond the letter of the law.”