I am going to make myself very unpopular around here, but I think Chicago Reader, Cecil et al. may have had no other realistic choice if they want to protect their trademark.
Back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, National Comics sued Mad Magazine over a Superman parody, alleging trademark infringement. I believe the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that National had to sue anyone who was infringing the trademark – including the little fanzines that were started in honor of Superman and other National superheroes – not just Mad Magazine. I think the court’s ruling was a publisher has to go after everybody infringing on a trademark, not just those people it wants to get and/or those making money off the infringement.
IIRC, back in the late 1970s, Marvel Comics aroused ire in comic fandom by suing some fanzines over unauthorized use of Marvel characters. Again, the intent was not to make money – most of the fanzine publishers had little to get – or piss off Marvel fans, but to protect the company’s trademarks.
Had Chicago Reader et all not taken the action they did, it is entirely possible someone unscrupulous, i.e. The Peyote Coyote, could start a rival publication or column entitled The Straight Dope and get away with it, claiming in court that Opal Cat’s use of the phrase means Chicago Reader is not interested in protecting its trademark, and, therefore, it can be used by someone else. It is unfortunate Opal Cat got caught in the gears of the letal system.
BigIron, jodih, and the other lawyers on this board, is this a fair summary of the situation?
and off my medication.