The owner of OUT FRONT, a magazine which has been chronicling Denver’s Gay community for nearly 40 years, has filed suit against a giant billboard company alleging unfair trade practices.
Jerry Cunningham, owner of Q Publishing, the parent company of OUT FRONT, says he was surprised to receive a press release in 2014 announcing that the billboard company, CBS Outdoor, was changing its name to OUTFRONT Media.
He was even more surprised when he saw the billboard company’s new logo. It was very similar to his.
“The damage to us,” he said, “is they are juxtaposing our signature, our endorsement, our logo, our brand on larger than life advertisements all across the United States, with organizations that have historically been against the LGBT community.”
He cited examples of billboards promoting Chick-fil-A, Cracker Barrel and the Mormons.
He said under the previous name, CBS Outdoor, there were billboards promoting Exodus, an organization touting that it was possible to change homosexuality through reparative therapy.
“How do you fix that?” Cunningham asked. “You can’t un-see something and that’s the reason we’re fighting to protect this 40 year legacy.”
Cunningham says OUT FRONT was there when the fight for gay rights began in Colorado.
Opening up the front page of the first edition, he pointed to a message from the late founder, Phil Price, which said, “There is no turning back.”
“You see in the very first issue, he capitalized every single letter in OUT FRONT,” Cunningham told Denver7. “That’s establishing that he was speaking of brand.”
Over the years, OUT FRONT has covered the AIDS crisis, the unconstitutional Amendment 2, Don’t Ask – Don’t Tell, and same-sex marriage.
“The brand is amazing,” he said. “It really speaks on so many levels, to the journey that the LGBT community has gone through for 40 years.”
When asked why the billboard company would take the same name and logo, Cunningham replied, “I have to believe the reason they chose it is because it’s a great identity, it’s a great brand.”
Initially, OUTFRONT Media declined comment about the lawsuit, but a company spokesperson later said, “Despite what Q Publishing would have people believe, this is nothing more than a trademark dispute between two companies in fundamentally different spaces. We feel very confident in our position.”
Cunningham said, “We are comparing a media company whose sole source of income is advertising compared to a media company whose sole source of income is advertising.”
He said some people are getting confused.
“CBS Outdoor advertisers were sending us checks,” he said. “They were sending checks for tens of thousands of dollars for billboard advertising.”
And he said the confusion did not stop there.
“Their attorney sent us an invoice for work they did for (CBS Outdoor) and we were like, wait. The train stops here,” Cunningham said. “I’m like, if their attorneys don’t know the difference between our two media companies, we have a problem. That was the catalyst that said, ‘we have to stop this.’”
That’s when Cunningham filed a federal lawsuit.
“They need to stop using our logo,” he said. “My impression is they won’t unless a court tells them to.”
But there’s a problem. OUTFRONT Media apparently trademarked the name before OUT FRONT magazine.
Now, it will be up to a judge to decide what happens.
Cunningham says he looks forward to his day in court, but worries that the billboard company may try to drag this out, so he has set up a GoFundMe account to help.
Cunningham says he hopes the case goes to trial in the spring or summer of 2016.