Turning Tides : Manhattan Beach Paper Walks Out of Talks on Name; Wins Round in Court

Times Staff Writer

Three weeks ago, High Tide, a biweekly newspaper in Manhattan Beach, was prepared to give up its name because of a bitter battle over the trademark with a high school newspaper of the same name.

Rather than continue the costly fight, the Manhattan Beach newspaper offered to change its name if the South Bay Union High School District, publisher of the student newspaper, dropped a $300,000 lawsuit against it.

But the school district wanted more than a name change, insisting during settlement negotiations late last week that the Manhattan Beach paper also give up legal rights to the name and throw in at least $1,500 "compensation."

The Manhattan Beach paper balked, withdrew from the negotiations, and on Tuesday won a victory in Torrance Superior Court that may let it keep the High Tide name indefinitely.

"We gave them what they wanted, and they weren't satisfied," said Jill Gottesman, executive editor of the Manhattan Beach newspaper. "They got too greedy."

Judge Hiroshi Fujisaki rejected a request by the school district for a preliminary injunction that would have forced the Manhattan Beach paper to shut down its presses until it changed its name or the lawsuit was settled. Fujisaki said the Manhattan Beach paper, with a circulation of 17,000 in Manhattan Beach, and the high school newspaper, with a circulation of 2,500 that includes students at Redondo Union High School and some alumni, have separate markets and do not compete with one another. Both papers are free.

Representatives from both sides described the ruling as a severe setback for the school district and the 67-year-old high school newspaper. As it stands now, both High Tides can publish while the lawsuit works it way through the courts--which could take years.

Don B. Finkelstein, attorney for the school district, said it may appeal Fujisaki's ruling. Trustee Bill Beverly said the board will probably hold a special meeting next week to decide what to do.

"We had hoped that we wouldn't have to go this far," Beverly said. "Now we have to decide if we want to go further. We have to balance a number of factors, including cost and likelihood of success, and how much it means to our school district to protect the exclusivity of the name."

Gottesman said her paper, formally called High Tide, News for the Beach, had offered during a closed session with the school board to change the name. The board, however, insisted that Peer Productions Inc., a corporation set up by Gottesman and Publisher Brian McClure to publish the paper, also give up its trademark registration to High Tide and pay at least $1,500 to the district, she said.

Gottesman said Peer Productions was unwilling to relinquish the trademark because the company is considering expanding to San Diego and using the name High Tide for a newspaper there. Both Gottesman and McClure, feeling they had already made a major concession by agreeing to change the Manhattan Beach paper's name, were resolutely opposed to paying any compensation to the district, no matter how small the amount, she said.

"They really wanted to punish us," Gottesman said. "We thought it was unjustified and unreasonable that they would ask for damages."

Finkelstein would not comment on the closed-session discussions. He said, however, that the district negotiated in good faith, even going so far as to propose that the money be paid in $100 installments over 15 months. He would not say whether the money would be for damages or attorney fees, saying only that it would have been "compensation."

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