The Post is Dead (Again)
The Chronicle's years-long campaign to kill off the Post was code-named "Operation Falcon" by the winners, who immortalized their April 1995 conquest in an epic wildlife painting now displayed at the paper's downtown headquarters. Almost a year later comes the successful conclusion of what might be dubbed "Operation Cockroach," with Chronicle owner the Hearst Corporation winning a court order to squash the Post's brief resurrection on the Internet.
After reaping a fortnight of publicity over their plans to publish a new Post via computer, and possibly later in print, lawyer Don Forester and associate Paul Allen meekly agreed last week to accept a permanent injunction sought by Hearst and ordered by U.S. District Judge John Rainey. Forester promptly pulled down a web page on which he had used a handful of hallowed -- at least in Hearst's view -- trademarks stripped from the dead paper. The judge also ordered that the upstarts deliver to Hearst the paraphernalia associated with the creation of what its lawyers dubbed "the counterfeit Post."
Forester and Allen may have counted their loss as a tactical victory. Although Forester did not return calls from the Press, he and Allen had earlier suggested to other media that they knew all along they could not use the Post logo and simply wanted to attract attention for an unnamed publication they hoped to produce in the coming months. A press release sent out by the duo in March stressed that they wanted to capture "the spirit and the flavor" of the Post for their future publication.
Forester has been hyperactive in registering titles for potential or active businesses. In the last few years, according to courthouse records, he's taken out DBAs on "Citizenship Service Center," "Advocates Legal Services," "City Life," "City Beat," "Dura Walls of Houston" and "Mad Elegance."
Allen registered "The Houston Post Online" as an assumed name in Harris County late in January. But Allen wasn't around for the closing of the real Post nine months earlier:at the time, he was serving a two-year sentence in federal prison in Florida for masterminding a scheme to defraud the Butler & Binion law firm through inflated equipment-leasing contracts. Allen, the president of Americana Leasing, was accused of negotiating contracts with a Butler & Binion employee who he then bribed with $10,000 in cash, $70,000 in interest-free loans, the free use of a new Mercedes and a free Chevy truck. He pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering, three counts of bank fraud and two counts of wire fraud.
While in prison, Allen petitioned U.S. District Judge Ken Hoyt to reduce his sentence so he could undergo surgery. A copy of that petition was sent to Forester. Since Hoyt denied the request, it's unclear how Allen got out in time to play a featured role in the attempted resurrection of the Post.
Allen was reluctant to discuss the particulars with the Press, but he did acknowledge he's been out of prison for only a few months. "It's really not fair to focus on me,"he protested. "I'm not an investor, nor do Ihave any money tied up in this thing."
Hearst's Houston lawyers at the Liddell, Sapp firm certainly took Forester and Allen's challenge seriously when they lowered the boom with the New York media giant's copyright infringement suit. According to the lawsuit, high-minded Hearst was simply trying to protect the good name of its former cross-town rival, whose archival product Hearst is now distributing via on-line data bases.
"The goodwill attached [to the Post name] is no longer limited to Texas, as the citizens of the entire on-line community are now appreciating the Houston Post, infusing these marks with global goodwill and recognition," gushed Hearst in its pleading, ignoring the fact that it was Hearst and the Chronicle that had worked so hard to ensure that the only good Post the world can now appreciate is a dead one.
Not content to prevent the use of the Houston Post name and logo and "Houston Post.com" by Forester and Allen, Hearst also targeted the duo's affiliated "CityBeat" web page. "The Chronicle has long had a gossip column written by Maxine Mesinger entitled 'Big City Beat,' " Hearst noted. "The defendants' use of the name 'CityBeat' links their on-line activity to the Houston Chronicle, strengthening the idea that Hearst sponsors and is running the placement of the Houston Post on-line."
Rainey did not order Forester to abandon "CityBeat," but that web page also had vanished this week along with "Houston Post.com."
And "CityBeat" isn't the only name Hearst lays claim to. TV news coverage of Forester's venture included the statement that "Hearst did not purchase the Post trademarks with the physical assets of the paper," Hearst claimed. However, purchase documents produced by Hearst for its suit showed that not only did it snap up the Houston Post name, but a host of other chestnuts from the dead paper as well. Those include "Written and Edited to Merit Your Confidence," "Houston owned, Texas proud,", "Movie Week," "EZ Ad," "Close-up" and "Tempo." Would-be publishers itching to use those hot titles and slogans should beware.
The Hearst lawyers also have notified Lisa Bass, a former Post copy editor who created the "Houston Post Newspaper in Exile" home page, that she would be required to execute a licensing agreement with Hearst in order to keep using the name and the Post masthead on the Internet. Bass, at least, wasn't required to pay for the right.
"We are obviously a nonprofit page, and we don't have any money," laughs Bass. She says Liddell, Sapp lawyer Paul Van Slyke was amiable and explained that Hearst "needed to do this in order to protect themselves in this other suit, because if we were out there running around unlicensed, it might be a potential difficulty."
The Post-in-exile has been in operation since October, providing former Post employees with a chance to keep in touch. More than 3,000 browsers visited the site during a recent week to gather such tidbits as the locales of parties on the April 18 anniversary of the paper's death. One such gathering is slated for Viva, a restaurant on South Braeswood owned by the husband of former managing editor Martha Liebrum. "Bitter drunks will be evicted," according to the home page invite, although a later party is planned with "bitter drunks especially welcome." No word on whether Forester and Allen will be welcome at either.