Big Bang Night in Canada: trademark infringement or publicity stunt?

The CBC and Bell Media fought a short-lived legal tussle over the words "in Canada" used to promote CTV's two-hour The Big Bang Theory comedy block on Saturday nights, against Hockey Night in Canada on the pubcaster's schedule.
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Bell Media has withdrawn a promotion campaign for its Big Bang Night in Canada comedy block on Saturday nights after the CBC claimed its trademark on “in Canada” had been infringed.

The pubcaster also believes it has been the subject of a publicity stunt by a rival after Bell Media agreed to promote the comedy block as Big Bang Night on CTV.

“So, out of deep respect for the millions of viewers that CBC has alleged are ‘confused,’ and in the spirit of the Lady Byng trophy, CTV today pledged that it will heed the request and rebrand its Saturday night programming as Big Bang Night on CTV,” Bell Media said Friday in a press statement dripping with sarcasm after the CBC defended its trademark on Hockey Night in Canada.

The move follows the CBC’s legal department on Oct. 4 sending via email a letter to Bell Media in which it argued its ownership of the official mark Hockey Night in Canada had been infringed by the use of “in Canada” to publicize the Big Bang Night in Canada comedy block on Saturday nights, to start on Oct. 13.

“At no time has CTV been authorized by CBC to use CBC’s trademark or any mark confusing with this particular mark,” the CBC missive stated.

“In addition, Big Bang Night in Canada depreciates the goodwill of CBC’s trademark. It uses a distinctive feature of the trademark which reduces the esteem of CBC’s trademark, dilutes CBC’s trademark and directly entices viewers from CBC,” the CBC email added.

Rather than battle over the use of “in Canada” in its promotion of its Big Bang Theory comedy block during the NHL lockout, Bell Media agreed to rebrand its promotional campaign.

“Apparently, reasonable viewers could consider encore hockey broadcasts ‘confusing’ with the widely popular comedy series about four socially awkward scientists and their friends,” Bell Media added Friday in its statement.

At the same time, CTV  said it “will be forced to ramp up” its marketing campaign for its Big Bang Night, to include a new on-air promo that debuted Thursday night during The Big Bang Theory broadcast on the Bell Media channel.

“Although similarities were found, Bell Media  confirms it has no issue with CBC imitating its specialty channel ESPN Classic with the airing of classic hockey games on Saturday nights, as long as CBC is not concerned that viewers may interpret that Gretzky, Gilmour, and Lemieux have come out of retirement,” Bell Media added, referencing the CBC airing classic NHL games during the NHL lockout.

Kirstine Stewart, executive vice president of CBC English services, said the pubcaster will retract its Oct. 4 legal missive to Bell Media in light of the rebranding to Big Bang Night on CTV.

Officials at Bell Media said any retraction would need to go through lawyers, and that they had not yet received that communication from the pubcaster.

At the same time, Stewart said Bell Media apparently chose to make lemonade from lemons when confronted by the CBC over its infringement of the Hockey Night in Canada trademark.

She said the first contact the CBC made to Bell Media was a “standard friendly phone call.”

Stewart added Bell Media requested the CBC legal department put the complaint in writing, which led to the Oct. 4 directive.

“Sounds like they needed some Canadian content to add to their Big Bang strategy,” Stewart added of CTV turning the internal legal dispute into an apparent publicity stunt.

From Playback Daily