UPDATE (June 11): Read my follow-up to this story here.
Sam Norouzi is a busy guy these days. He’s starting a television station from scratch. He’s dealing with the technical side, acquiring a transmitter and antenna, as well as the content side, dealing with show producers. The plan is to have the station on the air some time in the summer, with a formal launch in the fall.
Norouzi is the manager of ICI, a new over-the-air ethnic television station in Montreal that was approved by the CRTC when it allowed Rogers to buy CJNT. Operating under the callsign CFHG-DT, it will air on Channel 47, using the same Bell-owned transmission tower on Mount Royal that was used briefly by CFCF as a temporary digital antenna while its analog transmitter was still running in 2011.
ICI, which stands for International Channel/Canal international, wants to bring ethnic television in Montreal back to where it was before CJNT, a producers’ cooperative where people sell advertising for their own shows and the station doesn’t try to make money by pushing the limits of its licence with third-rate primetime American programming.
It’s a big undertaking, with a very large amount of local programming, and it’s being put together on a pretty short time frame.
But now Norouzi has a new headache to deal with: The CBC doesn’t want him to use “ICI” as the station’s name.
The public broadcaster sent a lawyer’s letter to Norouzi’s company this week asking it to cease and desist the use of the name ICI. A statement of claim was filed with the court on Monday noting CBC’s request to have Norouzi’s trademark for ICI expunged. (Hat tip to the Citizen’s Glen McGregor for alerting me to that.) Norouzi (whose real name is Nowrouzzahrai) wasn’t aware of the letter when I called him Wednesday afternoon, because he’s currently in Florida. After checking in with his father, Norouzi confirmed he had received the letter.
Marc Pichette, a spokesperson for Radio-Canada, confirmed that the corporation asked the station to change its name “because « ici » has been a Radio-Canada staple for decades (Ici Radio-Canada) and because it is presently featured in an advertising campaign promoting Radio-Canada’s very personal relation with its audience. In these ads, people evoke how Radio-Canada programs that they have seen “ici” have been a pivotal in finding their vocation or lifelong interests.”
There’s another reason, though. Le Devoir reported Wednesday that Radio-Canada is thinking of rebranding, and calling itself “Ici.” Needless to say that would cause confusion.
A search of the Canadian trademarks database shows that the CBC registered a series of trademarks last fall with the word “ici” in it.
But Norouzi also has a trademark registered for his use of the term “ICI”. That trademark was filed in August 2011 and registered in September, before the CBC’s trademark applications were filed.
Asked about that, Pichette said “ici has been a Radio-Canada staple for decades” because it’s been used with the Radio-Canada name (à la “Ici Radio-Canada“). He didn’t say why the CBC is only acting on this now while the TV station’s use of the name ICI has been known since at least last fall and its trademark dates back a year and a half.
Norouzi said he was frustrated because he’d done everything he was supposed to, making sure nobody else was using the name for a TV station and then registering it himself and getting it approved. He said he doesn’t have enough money to hire lawyers to fight the CBC’s legal department, which means if the CBC decides to make this a legal case, it will probably win by default.
All this over a three-letter word.
UPDATE (March 28): Asked about the possible name change in the House of Commons, Heritage Minister James Moore says its name is enshrined in the law and it won’t change. Though I’m not sure how much control the government has over branding. The logos above show the official name would remain “Radio-Canada” but with brands focused on “ici”.
Meanwhile, CBC announces it’s going ahead with the rebranding, but Radio-Canada’s name remains “Radio-Canada”.