Law & Disorder

A love letter to the Dayton Voice & Dayton City Paper

By A. J. Wagner

Part of the reason I write for the Dayton City Paper is that I was always a fan of the courage and sacrifice it takes to run an independent paper and give it away for free. What follows is a belated email I received from the former owner/publisher of this paper when it was called the Dayton Voice:

I wanted to object to your description of how we came to change the paper’s name from the Dayton Voice to Impact Weekly.

No question that it was a lamentable decision. The name Dayton Voice was almost iconic regionally, while Impact Weekly was an awkward handle that had none of the same grit.

Your column looked at some legal issues related to trademarks, noting in particular the time when the Village Voice asked us to stop the use of a name to which they claimed to have exclusive rights.

You wrote: “The courts will uphold exclusive use of a trademark name if another business uses it in a like or similar manner that ‘is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive.’ the Dayton Voice was prepared to argue that no one would confuse a small weekly entertainment paper in Ohio with the New York weekly that was high on production values, big on investigative reporting, larger in size and catering to a totally different market. But alas, David could not find the needed rock to slay Goliath. The Dayton Voice, short on cash and, thus, lawyer power, became philosophical and decided the name change might be good. They settled with the Village Voice and became Impact Weekly.”

Later, referring to the Cape Cod Voice, which did not change its name, you wrote, “I wish there were a legal case that set forth the law on all this, but the Village Voice never took these cases to court. They scared off the Dayton Voice and others with letters from lawyers. Cape Cod Voice refused to back down to the letters and that is where it ended.”

But, A. J., they didn’t scare us off, at all. We printed the letter from their lawyer and printed one of our own. Our letter treated the Village Voice with blatant disrespect and asserted that our decision to call our paper the Dayton Voice was out of respect for Michael Moore’s Flint Voice.

We prayed to be taken to court. It would have been a PR coup for us that might even have had a positive effect on the business side of our operation. But we couldn’t even pay our printer at the time, a more immediate concern to be sure.

Sometime after Thanksgiving I got a call from the publisher of the New York paper who actually expressed admiration for our response and offered to pay us to resolve the matter in their favor.

They paid us an amount big enough to pay our printer – for about 8 more issues, if I recall correctly. Our public position was that we needed to avoid a court fight and that there was something to be gained by changing our name to Impact Weekly. We stopped calling the paper by the name it deserved and got a few pieces of silver. Call us sellouts, if you like, but don’t call us chicken.

And don’t call us merely “a small weekly entertainment paper,” either. Had we been an entertainment weekly, we might have been able to pay the printer regularly, but our desire to make an editorial difference pushed our costs higher than we could manage.

Fully one-third of our paper each week was editorial copy, covering politics and community issues – including covering local bands as grassroots art-generators. No other alternative weekly at the time committed so much space to editorial. And our mission was always explicit:

To treat working people, communities of color, women and the LGBT community as subjects, audience and sources for the news.

As I said, we would have loved for the Village Voice to take us to court. After all, we were totally judgment proof. And we would have argued, on our own behalf, not that they were “high on production values, big on investigative reporting, larger in size and catering to a totally different market,” but that they were a grasping, avaricious, corporate entity who were not in our league.

Like you, I wish we had gotten the chance. But we gave that chance up in favor of taking their money and paying our printer.

It was probably a bad decision at the time. I never got to apologize to readers or to staff for it. And I’m sure not proud of it. I loved the Dayton Voice. – Jeff Epton

I still love the Dayton Voice, now called the Dayton City Paper.

Jeff currently writes a blog – inandoutwithjeff.blogspot.com.

Disclaimer: The content herein is for entertainment and information only. Do not use this as a legal consultation. Every situation has different nuances that can affect the outcome and laws change without notice. If you’re in a situation that calls for legal advice, get a lawyer. You represent yourself at your own risk. The author, the Dayton City Paper and its affiliates shall have no liability stemming from your use of the information contained herein. 

A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.

One Response to “Law & Disorder” Subscribe

  1. Gary jordan March 6, 2013 at 4:18 am #

    I’ve always enjoyed the paper, back when it was the Dayton Voice and now. The paper is more (for a lack of a better nomenclature) at the ground level. The paper is for the people who won’t read the regular news paper.
    Just wanted to say, thank you for still being in print.

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