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Mountain Citizen fights for name

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    NMU         KENTUCKY         Copyrights & Trademarks         Jun 3, 2002    

Mountain Citizen fights for name

  • The paper’s crusade for quality water turned into federal copyright fight when a prominent small-town official tried to silence the newspaper by appropriating its name.

A Kentucky newspaper whose official name is in limbo after a county official claimed ownership of the name is making sure its reputation is not.

Defying a state-issued restraining order, the newspaper continued publication last week under “Mountain Citizen” and now seeks to try the copyright case in the federal court system.

Martin County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Sparks ruled May 21 that the Mountain Citizen , a weekly newspaper in Inez, Ky., would be violating state trademark law by printing the name newly acquired by the chairman of a local water board, which has been the subject of a series of critical articles.

Chairman John R. Triplett, also a prominent local lawyer and chairman of the area’s Republican party, filed for ownership of the newspaper’s name after he discovered its incorporation papers had lapsed in the secretary of state’s office. Since then, Triplett has faced disparagement from far beyond the borders of Inez.

For example, David Wells of The Cincinnati Enquirer called Triplett’s move a “high-handed attempt to shut off criticism” of the county’s often-brown tap water. Although the water is technically “safe to drink”on most days, boil advisories come so often that the school district tapes over drinking fountains and issues bottled water to children.

Even The New York Times took up the issue, saying Triplett has no solid plans for using the name.

Mountain Citizen Editor Gary Ball said staff morale is at an all-time high since the public and press are offering praise of both the paper’s aggressive reporting and sustained publication while facing an uncertain future.

“In my opinion, this was an attempt to silence the press, that’s it,” Ball said. “The public can see through this. We’ve had overwhelming support.”

Although Triplett has a restraining order on his side and almost managed to keep the paper from publishing last week, the newspaper is holding fast. Editors of the weekly paper, which has a circulation of 6,000, drove all night to a printer more than three hours away when the paper’s usual publisher would not violate the restraining order. They even hand-distributed the paper, though many subscribers are scattered over the state.

When asked if he has any plans to cease printing while the name is in limbo, Ball said, “No way.”

“It’s on our window, and it’s our paper,” Publisher Roger Smith said. “I’d like to see them try to take it off.”

The newspaper’s management is now looking to the federal court system, calling Triplett’s move a First Amendment issue and claiming rights to the name as “built up over time,” because it has been “known by our readership for over a decade.”

The Mountain Citizen’s original printer, Appalachian News Express, has agreed to print this week’s edition, claiming it should not have been included in the restraining order since its name is not included in the copyright dispute. The June 5 issue is set to feature coverage of the lawsuit, its recognizable mast and another water story.


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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