CN Tower trademark

CN Tower says using photos of Toronto's most iconic tower violates trademark

Today in stories that sound fake but aren't, a Canadian author is being forced to lawyer up against the crown corporation that manages Toronto's CN Tower for daring to feature that huge, unmissable spike in the sky on the cover of a book about goblins.

Accomplished writer James Bow explained to The Star this week that the Canada Lands Company Ltd. (CLCL) accused him of trademark violation in September after the release of his latest work, "The Night Girl."

The urban fantasy novel, set in Toronto, hit bookstore shelves on September 10 with a cover that shows a portion of the CN Tower alongside the silhouettes of several monsters and two humans.

Boutique publisher Reuts Publications had secured the tower photo through a stock photo website under a creative commons license.

The photographer who took the image was fully aware of and on board with its use. The CN Tower's marking and communications manager, however, was not.

"We request that the use of the CN Tower image be discontinued immediately along with any other instances where it might be in use or appear," wrote Patrick Leavey on behalf of the CLCL in an email to Bow.

Leavey told Bow in his email that the tower is "protected by trademark," despite that fact that, as CLCL openly states on its website, "The CN Tower is Canada's most recognizable and celebrated structure."

Indeed, the CN Tower is known to be fussy about the use of its likeness. It even appears on Adobe's official list of "known image restrictions," though a copyright holder is not named in that document.

Either way, Bow found the demand "unreasonable" and, unwilling to scrap an entire run of already-printed books, he sought legal advice.

Toronto-based lawyer Ren Bucholz is now fighting on Bow's behalf. He asked the company behind the CN Tower to drop the matter in a letter on Wednesday.

"The purpose of trademark law is to prevent confusion in the marketplace for specific goods and services, and to stop bad actors from 'passing off' counterfeit goods as the genuine article," reads a portion of that letter shared with The Star. 

"We understand that CLCL is the Crown corporation that owns the CN Tower, and that it is charged with stewarding and monetizing real estate assets formerly held by the federal government," it continues. 

"It seems unlikely that CLCL is active in the business of publishing novels, let alone fantasy novels featuring a strong female protagonist who helps trolls and goblins succeed in the human world through her work at an employment agency."

Bow and Bucholz aren't alone in feeling that the CLCL may be overreeaching with their trademark claim here.

"It's telling that the CN Tower embarked on its trademark trolling career by attacking a small press author who was unlikely to have the resources to defend himself," wrote copyright activist and author Cory Doctorow of the case on BoingBoing this week.

"If the CN Tower succeeds in this gambit, you can be sure they won't be the only ones who try it: Their example could lead every owner of every notable Canadian building to follow suit, so that a picture of the Toronto skyline taken from a harbour ferry could require fifty separate licenses before it could be published, and the same would be true for every Canadian city's skyline."

Doctorow goes on to further explain the dangerous repercussions that such a claim (which he refers to as "flaming garbage") could bring about. Artists, newsgatherers and makers who use city buildings in their works could start to shy away from showing Toronto skylines out of the fear of legal threats.

"Whether or not the Tower presses their claim against Bow, they deserve to be humiliated on the national stage for this breathtaking attempt at legal bullying, in which they claimed to own a symbol that has become synonymous with Toronto itself," Doctorow concludes.

"An attempt, in other words, to steal the likeness of the city from its millions of residents."

The CLCL has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Lead photo by

Tim Gouw

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