Quebecor takes satirical website Journal de Mourréal to court

The case between Quebecor and a satirical website is before Quebec Superior Court. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

A satirical website that mocks the Journal de Montréal is eroding the credibility of the newspaper’s brand and creating confusion among readers about what is actual reporting and what is a parody, Quebecor’s lawyers argued Monday.

The trial pitting the Montreal-based media conglomerate against the satirical Journal de Mourréal opened with a lawyer representing the company alleging the joke site is imitating the paper’s design in an effort to drum up online revenues.

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Quebecor lawyer Marek Nitoslawski argued the satirical site “appropriated” and “deformed” the newspaper’s trademarked look. The logo and the website address of the Journal de Mourréal are identical to the Journal de Montréal, with the exception of the two letters that change “Montréal” to “Mourréal.”

To support his argument, Nitoslawski entered evidence showing the satirical site modified its own logo to match the appearance of the Montreal tabloid just two days after the paper redesigned on Oct. 1, 2013.

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Quebecor’s lawyer maintained the case is about trademark infringement, not freedom of expression, as satirical site co-founder Janick Murray-Hall has argued.

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The lawyer said Quebecor favours freedom of expression and is not opposed to parody sites. It is not seeking to close the website, he said, but it wants an end to the use of the Journal’s trademark and a URL that is so similar to the Journal’s.

The first witness was Mathieu Turbide, the vice-president responsible for digital content at Quebecor Media, who said that as fake news sites have multiplied, the name attached to a news source is important. Turbide testified that the proliferation of online sources has made it difficult for media consumers to distinguish real from invented content.

He presented e-mails from readers complaining about the publication of false information they thought was from the Journal de Montréal, when in fact it was published by the parody site. “If this person asks us the question, it is because she thinks that the news comes from us,” Turbide said.

He also offered up evidence from Facebook of people attacking the Journal de Montréal under content published or shared by the Journal de Mourréal.

“For us there is a fairly obvious risk of confusion and then, after that confusion, a degradation of the brand,” Turbide said.

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“From the moment people start to have a doubt that when they read our content, that it’s not necessarily verified or it’s not true … there is a damage to the reputation and to the credibility of our brand.”

Turbide said the Journal de Montréal already has to defend its credibility against people who look down on tabloids. He noted the Montreal daily newspaper has a newsroom of 100 people and a large investigative team with a track record for breaking important stories.

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The satirical site’s creators, Murray-Hall and Olivier Legault, are representing themselves in court. They estimate the publication made $53,550 in advertising revenues between 2013 and 2019.

In his cross examination of Turbide, Murray-Hall noted that Quebecor knew about the parody site for nearly 30 months before it turned to the courts, which he said suggests the harm was “not terrible.” He also submitted news articles from various Quebecor websites that described the Journal de Mourréal as a “well-known satirical website in the province,” arguing that most readers have no trouble distinguishing between the two sites.

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Quebec Superior Court Justice Micheline Perrault is presiding over the trial, which continues Tuesday.

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