Thursday 26 April 2018

Irish Times loses legal bid against UK Times

Irish Times
Irish Times

The High Court has refused an application by The Irish Times for injunctions restraining the publishers of The Times of London using the words "The Times Irish Edition" in promoting a new digital Irish edition of the UK newspaper.

The Irish Times Ltd (TITL) had sought various injunctions, pending the outcome of a full hearing, arising from the planned launch of the new digital publication, to be sold as part of a subscription package with the Sunday Times.

Among the injunctions sought were orders restraining Times Newspapers Ltd (TNL) promoting the digital publication using the words “The Times Irish Edition” or any other title confusingly similar to The Irish Times.

In opposing the application, TNL, publisher of The Times, denied the use of the words “The Times Irish Edition” runs the risk of creating confusion with The Irish Times or that the plaintiff had any case for infringement of its trademarks. The UK publisher also argued delay by the Irish Times in bringing its application disentitled it to the injunctions.

In his judgment on Monday, Mr Justice John Hedigan ruled the injunctions should be refused on grounds of delay in seeking them.

The background to the application was “unusual” as The Times has been sold in Ireland since 1785 and the Irish Times since 1859.  Since the 1980s, an Irish edition of the Sunday Times had also been on sale in Ireland.

The Irish Times and London Times have co-existed peacefully for some 150 years, he noted.

This case arose from the decision to publish an Irish edition of the London Times, the first national edition of The Times outside the UK, he said. The new publication would be in direct conflict with the Irish Times and might usher in a highly competitive relationship and inevitable confusion between the titles.

He was satisfied on the evidence the London Times decision to launch an Irish edition was “common knowledge” since September 2014.  A number of Tweets exhibited by TNL, including Tweets circulating through the Irish Times, showed those involved in Irish journalism were well aware of the defendants intentions.

Even without the exhibited Tweets, he would find it difficult to believe the plaintiffs were unaware of the intended launch of this newspaper, the judge said. He was satisfied the new publication could not be launched without  identifying itself as an Irish edition and that it was also “highly improbable” the new publication would call itself the Times of London.

In light of the coexistence of both publications for so long, the judge said he could understand there may have been some confusion about what to do. However, the evidence was the defendants had made elaborate, complex and costly preparation for the launch to which they had made a very substantial commitment.

Taking into account the long history of peaceful coexistence between the sides, the defendants had at least an arguable case of estoppel against Irish Times on the basis of the long co-existence, he said.

Applying the relevant legal principles, he was satisfied TITL had not moved with reasonable expedition and he would refuse the injunctions, the judge ruled.

Given his finding on the delay point, the judge added he did not have to address other issues including whether the plaintiff had made out an arguable case,  whether damages would not be an adequate remedy or where the balance of convenience lay. He adjourned a decision on liability for costs of the three day application to Wednesday.

Richard Oakley, Editor of the Irish edition of The Times, said after the verdict:

“We are delighted that we have been successful in resisting The Irish Times’ application for an injunction to prevent us launching an Irish edition of The Times.

"We have rigorously defended our position and will now proceed to launch a 7-day digital newspaper of The Times and The Sunday Times for the Irish market.

"Our new daily, digital, edition of The Times for the Irish market will be a national newspaper with a global outlook and exclusive sports highlight packages produced by a team of up to 30 Irish journalists based in Dublin.

"There is a clear gap in the Irish market for an exciting and innovative digital newspaper and we look forward to launching in the coming weeks.

"More importantly we are very proud to be the first title to invest at this level in the Monday-Saturday Irish market in recent years.”

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