The story starts back in 2012. Janick Murray-Hall just created his Facebook account and discovered the world of memes: small pictures with catchphrases that have become ubiquitous on social media.
He sent some memes to satirical Facebook pages in Quebec, but to his disappointment, they were not published, so he decided to start a page of his own. His first post was a meme of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatening to blow up the Montreal Olympic Stadium. The post is still on Facebook according to Murray-Hall.
The Journal de Mourréal was born.
A year later, Murray-Hall, who uses the alias Bob Flanagan, the editor-in-chief of the spoof page mocking the Journal de Montréal, launched a website to match the Facebook page.
The Facebook page is still the main hub though. According to SimilarWeb.com, 62% of the traffic comes from social media, 97% of it being Facebook.
On July 7, 2016, MediaQMI, the Journal de Montréal’s parent company, filed a request of injunction against the spoof page. In it, MediaQMI asks that the defendant, the Journal de Mourréal, to “cease the publication and the diffusion of the name Journal de Mourréal as a publication name.” MediaQMI also asked to have to all the spoof website’s profits returned to them.
MediaQMI’s injunction was on the basis that Journal de Mourréal’s and Journal de Montréal’s names could be easily confused and that Journal de Mourréal “to all intents and purposes uses the same logo” as the Journal de Montréal, amongst other arguments. It also read that, “in the mind of an a regular consumer quite in a hurry,” the two names would be confused due to similar typography and style. The injunction was made public by droit-inc.com.
Five days later, on July 12, the Journal de Mourréal, in an effort to pay their legal fees, inaugurated a crowdfunding page.
Less than a week later, in a Facebook post, the creators of Journal de Mourréal explained that they “were tired of fighting against a company worth 4 billion” and that they would not be using the confusing logo anymore.
Olivier Legault, Murray-Hall’s colleague, wrote a message of his own on July 18 in which he argued that, since freedom of expression is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights, it should trump the right to protect trademarks, a federal law.
That day, French-Canadian stand-up comedian Mike Ward offered his support by organizing a show in the name of freedom of expression with all the profits going towards the creators’ legal fees.
“Looks like we’re going back to war,” Journal de Mourréal wrote in a Facebook post.
Numerous lawyers have weighed in on the issue such as Louis-Phillippe Lampron, a law professor at Université Laval, who wrote in a Huffington Post Quebec blog that the debate will likely not be on the confusion between the two names since the confusion is the goal of the Journal de Mourréal, but more about the trademark.
Murray Hall told me in an interview that the debate will revolve around the argument of Canada’s Copyright Act’s article 29 that states that “fair dealing for the purpose of […] parody or satire does not infringe copyright.”
“We’re saying that the law on trademarks is stupid because we cannot legally parody a trademark before the law,” says Murray-Hall.
In an interview with Le Devoir, Normand Tamaro, a lawyer specialized in copyright, explained that confusion would have been more present if the two entities were printed and sold next to one another. Here lies the issue says Murray-Hall. “With the advent of digital media, we don’t talk about buying anything, we’re talking about a deliberate action of a reader coming on our website.”
MediaQMI’s words in the injunction have frustrated Murray-Hall and have since become a running gag, as seen in the Facebook page’s cover picture which reads “This content is for regular people that are in a hurry.”
He agrees that his website is confusing in regards to the latter argument, but “it’s an argument that completely despises the reader, as if the regular reader was suffering from a attention deficit disorder,” says Murray-Hall.
“It’s a ridiculous argument so we turned it into a joke, to our advantage and now it has become a running gag,” he told me in an interview.
Murray-Hall added that characterizing people as “regular consumers that are quite in a hurry” is “pretentious” and “condescending.”
The last month has been one of the most popular for the website: data on SimilarWeb.com reveals that July 2016 had the most total visits in the last 6 months (370,000 visitors).
Editor Flanagan (Murray-Hall) intends on looking for advertisers to do affiliate marketing once the legal issues are done and that Journal de Mourréal is “100% legit.” Affiliate marketing is described by Entrepreneur as a “way for a company to sell its products by signing up individuals or companies who market the company’s products for commission.”
It’s not impossible for satirical websites to become lucrative. In fact, in January 2016, Univision Communications Inc. acquired 40% stakes of The Onion, an American satirical newspaper for $200 million US.
“The problem right now is our ambiguous association with the real newspaper,” says Murray-Hall. That association, he continues, “cools down their fervor about associating with us.”
For now, Bob Flanagan (Murray-Hall) is still the editor-in-chief of Journal de Mourréal but things may change soon. “In satire, the use of alias has been going on forever,” he continued, “the anonymity allows you to have fun without facing too much consequences.”
“Are we asking Jean Leloup or Coeur de Pirate to talk using their real name?” questioned Flanagan (Murray-Hall).
“To me, that the newspaper is called this or that, I don’t mind, we’re going to continue to write jokes the same way,” he concluded. “What we are pleading is not really to keep the name like it is but more of an ethical and moral argument, to tell Quebecor [MediaQMI’s parent company] f*** of, we have the right to do what we want, and if you’re not happy then the courts will decide.”