Village Voice Slaps Yelp With Lawsuit Over ‘Best Of’ Phrase

Let the war between old and new media continue. 

Village Voice Media Holdings on Thursday sued the review website Yelp over the use of the phrase “best of,” which it has long used for its chain of alternative weeklies.

In a lawsuit filed in Arizona federal court, the company is claiming ownership of the phrase in reference to local restaurants and other business in the cities it serves. The suit names 10 local “best of” series (“Best of Seattle,” “Best of Denver,” “Best of Dallas,” etc), each of which the company has trademarked.

The special issues in question are often the biggest of the year for the weeklies, bringing in additional advertising dollars from local bars, restaurants and other business. The winning businesses often display the “Best Of” plaques in their establishments, thereby providing year-round free advertising for the Village Voice and its sister publications. Village Voice Media also owns a “Best Of” iPhone app, which it launched in 2011.

Yelp publishes “best of” listings for numerous cities. In the lawsuit, Village Voice Media claims it became aware of the listings in September.  

A Yelp spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The earliest “best of” references named in the lawsuit date back to 1979, or 25 years before Yelp was founded. According to the lawsuit, Yelp’s use of the phrase “best of” is likely to cause “confusion, mistake and deception of customers as to the source of Yelp’s goods and services in light of [Village Voice Media’s] Registered Marks.”

The suit goes on to add that Village Voice Media “has been and will be damaged by a loss of reader loyalty, advertising sales and profits.”  

The company is seeking profits from Yelp’s “best of” advertising as well an injunction to prohibit the website from using the phrase in the future.

This is the second time in less than a year that the Voice publisher has sued over “best of.” In November 2011, the company sued Time Out New York over the latter publication’s annual “Best of NYC” issue. Village Voice Media bought the trademark to “Best of NYC” in 2008. Time Out New York, however, countersued, claiming that the phrase is generic and that the trademark should never have been awarded. The Voice reportedly abandoned its fight earlier this year.   

That lawsuit, like the new one, attracted much derision from new-media news outlets such as PaidContent and VentureBeat, which saw the complaint as a desperate attempt by an old-media bully to hold on to what few sources of lucrative advertising it has left.    

The “Best in NYC” trademark is not named in the Yelp lawsuit.

As was reported by IBTimes in September, Village Voice Media has agreed to sell off its stable of alt-weeklies to the newly formed Voice Media Group, which is being headed up by CEO Scott Tobias. It’s unclear when that deal will be finalized, but Voice Media Group is not mentioned in Thursday’s lawsuit.

Read the full lawsuit here.   

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