Degrassi meddles with fan’s domain; Show wants rights to Web addresses
Kitchener – As he strides anxiously about his tiny Kitchener apartment, Mark Polger is, if not livid, then at the very least, greatly annoyed.
“They’re bullying me,” says the rumpled 26-year-old, holding a statement of claim filed against him by the company that produced the award-winning Degrassi TV series from 1979 to 1992.
“I have not done anything wrong. They wanted to scare me and they did.”
Under threat of a lawsuit, the University of Waterloo grad student is being told to hand over three Degrassi domain names associated with the unofficial Web site he’s been running since 1998 as a resource centre for fans of the Canadian youth series.
For someone who may be the show’s biggest supporter, it’s the ultimate indignity.
“I was a really, really, really big fan when I was a teenager,” says Polger, who organized a Degrassi convention two years ago and wrote a thesis comparing the series (favourably) to TV’s Beverly Hills 90210.
“I watched episodes every day. I did all my term papers in high school on Degrassi. I tried to convince everyone in my classes to watch the show — I tried to convert them as if it was a religion. To me this feels like a slap in the face.”
It was last February, he says, that he began receiving e-mails and phone calls from Epitome Pictures requesting that he hand over his Internet domain names — degrassi.ca, degrassi.org and degrassiweb.com.
In June, he says, they called him to a meeting in Toronto, revealed plans for a new Degrassi series, made vague promises of a part-time job and urged him again to hand over the domain names. When Polger refused on principle — “what I’m doing is not wrong” — lawyers got involved and things became less friendly.
On Jan. 12, he said, he received a statement of claim from a Toronto law firm seeking damages for, among other things, trademark infringement, “deliberately attempting to improperly take advantage and trade on the (series) valuable reputation” and “using the domain names in bad faith.”
Epitome president Linda Schuyler said Polger was never served with a statement of claim. It was simply a draft, “showing what it would look like” if Polger refused to change his mind.
“There’s been a lot of paper go back and forth,” she said. “There is discussion going on . . . and we are trying to come to an amicable solution with him.”
She said Epitome doesn’t want to shut Polger or his Web sites down, but “we want these names . . . We have a vested interest in our own trademark.” She said her company has registered an alternative name that Polger can use, which she wouldn’t reveal.
As for discussing a job with him, she said no formal offer was made, “but there were possibilities discussed.”
Polger, who is searching for a lawyer, is incensed.
“Instead of thanking me for providing free publicity and promotion, they’ve been harassing me,” he says, insisting the Degrassi name can’t be trademarked and that the charges against him are false.
“I’m a student with limited power and limited resources and they’re this big production company. I think they’re just being greedy — and they don’t take no for an answer. I want them to leave me alone and stop bugging me.”
In some ways, it sounds like a plot from the series, which preached integrity, perseverance and justice for all.
“They’re bullying me like Dwayne bullied Joey,” says Polger, referring to an ongoing rift between two teenaged characters. “In a very abstract kind of way.”
The irony, he believes, is that if it hadn’t been for his Web site and others like it, there would be no demand for the new Degrassi series, slated for the 2001-02 TV season.
“There were about three Degrassi sites in 1996 and now there’s more than 40,” he says. “I’m not being arrogant. From my perspective, it’s the emergence of the Web sites that have made (the new show) happen.”
The bottom line, he says, is that he’s not giving in.
“I worked really hard on it for many years and I’m still working hard on it. If I have to file for bankruptcy, I will.”
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Colour Photo: David Bebee, Record staff
Mark Polger says a production company is trying to strong-arm him into handing over his Degrassi Web site addresses.
Uniform subject(s): Internet, information technologies and multimedia
Story type(s): News
Length: Medium, 571 words
2001 The Record – Kitchener-Waterloo. All rights reserved.
Doc. : news20010210KR0003