Media Watch

Who owns 'Austin'?

<i>Austin Monthly</i>'s suit against <i>Austin Magazine</i> claims that the latter has purposely copied its style and is trying to confuse the public.
Austin Monthly's suit against Austin Magazine claims that the latter has purposely copied its style and is trying to confuse the public.

Better than a catfight at a Martha Stewart designer showcase, Austin Monthly's suit against glossy upstart Austin Magazine continues this week, with the first exchange of discovery documents. In the suit, Austin Monthly charges that the new bimonthly, launched in March by Tribeza publisher Zarghun Dean, is stepping on its tastefully decorated turf, infringing on its trademark, and purposely trying to confuse Austin readers with another magazine dedicated to fine furnishings, society pages, and really cute patio sets.

At stake is the lucrative advertising base of designers, plastic surgeons, realtors, and travel companies who covet the wealthy readers promised by glossy city magazines. It's already a crowded field, including Brilliant and Austin Home & Living. The Austin Business Journal will enter the fray in August with the minimally titled A – yet another attempt to woo Austinites hungry for lifestyle news.

Austin Monthly has been working the city magazine turf for 13 years, entertaining Austin's Lexus-driving soccer moms. The suit claims that the magazine has spent "considerable effort, expense and resources" establishing Austin Monthly as the premier "Austin centric" magazine. "In fact, the public commonly refers to Austin Monthly Magazine by the name Austin Magazine," the suit says, which doesn't exactly speak well of the magazine's brand identity, although it may suggest why the magazine's owners aren't thrilled that Dean launched a magazine called Austin Magazine.

The suit charges that Dean purposely designed Austin Magazine to copy Austin Monthly, including the logo. "They are doing a number of things to confuse the public," says Austin Monthly's attorney Adam Loewy. (That name may sound familiar; he's getting national pub these days as the lawyer for the family of a 14-year-old who filed that $30 million lawsuit against, alleging the site should do more to stop sexual predators.)

In fact, both magazines do use the word "Austin" stretched across the top of their covers. But Austin Magazine uses a different font, and the rest of the magazine follows a fairly common template for the ilk. The most recent edition included stories on "Elevated Lake Living" and "Cooking Schools for Every Taste."

Attorney Larry Waks, who represents Dean and Austin Magazine, labels the suit "absurd." He argues that Austin Monthly is essentially trying to trademark the word "Austin," and there's nothing illegal or unfair about a magazine targeting a similar demographic. According to case law, Waks said, "you can't own a geographic name, and you can't own generic words."

Dean says he is simply reviving the Austin Magazine that shut down production in 2001, a victim of the dog-eat-dog world of food and fashion magazines. Dean says he bought the rights to that publication from the former publishers, the Minter family. He vows to fight the suit and says the next issue of Austin Magazine will be out within days, with distribution focused on the wealthy suburbs of West Austin.

Stupid Is As ...

After a two-month search for a morning show, KXBT-FM (The Beat, 104.3) last week gave the slot to Snoop Daniel, who has been toiling at the station for two years, primarily on nights and weekends. The station auditioned stand-up comic Lamont King for a week and listened to 100 tapes before deciding to give the in-house guy a shot, said Dusty Hayes, programming director for CBS Radio's Austin stations. "I didn't hear anybody better than Snoop," Hayes said.

Daniel, whose real name is Jonathan Donaldson, replaces the syndicated Star & Buc Wild show, the New York-based duo the station picked up to replace Howard Stern, who departed for satellite radio. The idea was to bring in a national act to anchor the hip-hop format and continue Stern's big city flavor.

That changed in May, when Star and Buc Wild were abruptly fired by their home station after they made a series of racist remarks about a New York competitor. Star, aka Troi Torain, also threatened to "do an R. Kelly" on the rival's 4-year-old daughter. He was eventually arrested and charged with harassment and endangering the welfare of a child.

"There is questionable content, and then there is stupid content," Hayes said.

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