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Muscle magazines battle in court Add to ...

The bodybuilding empire of Joe and Ben Weider is laying the legal muscle on the Canadian publisher of women's fitness magazine Oxygen, claiming the publication is wrestling away the cover design of Weider-owned rival Muscle & Fitness Hers.

Canusa Products Inc., a magazine publisher based in Mississauga, made "an intentional and calculated attempt to make Oxygen look as similar as possible to Muscle & Fitness Hers," said Weider Publications Inc. in a Feb. 14 complaint filed in the Central District of California, U.S. District Court.

Los Angeles-based Weider claims its bodybuilding competitor is "confusing consumers and thereby increasing Oxygen's declining market share."

Muscle & Fitness Hers, a spinoff of Muscle & Fitness, was launched by the magazine division of Weider Health and Fitness Inc. in 1999. The bi-monthly targeting women grew quickly, reporting annual revenue of more than $6-million (U.S.) last year, up 140 per cent from 2000, the complaint said.

In 2000, Weider alleges Oxygen, a monthly available on U.S. and Canadian newstands since 1997, "intentionally" made a series of cover design changes "so that it would look more similar to . . . Muscle & Fitness Hers." For example, the cover of Oxygen, like Muscle & Fitness Hers, features a model in a swimsuit that matches a studio background. Prior to the launch of the Weider publication, Oxygen's cover regularly posed cover models in outdoor settings, the complaint alleges.

Canusa's "step-by-step appropriation" means Weider "has lost and will continue to lose income and profits" through confusion in the marketplace, the magazine company claims. Weider is seeking unspecified injunctive relief and unspecified damages.

In its June 27 response, Canusa denied all of Weider's allegations and asked the court to dismiss the claim.

The cover design of Muscle & Fitness Hers "is not inherently distinctive," the Canusa reply said. "Design elements of Weider's . . . are commonly used in the publishing industry and thus Weider has no exclusive rights."

Robert Kennedy, publisher of Oxygen, did not return telephone calls. In an interview earlier this month with industry magazine Masthead, Mr. Kennedy described the legal dispute as "very frivolous" and said he has spent $60,000 (Canadian) to date in legal fees. Canusa publishes MuscleMag International and in November will launch American Curves, a magazine that will feature fit women posing in lingerie and swimsuits.

Joe and Ben Weider and officials at Weider Publications did not return telephone calls. Lawrence Iser, a Los Angeles-based lawyer representing Weider, declined to comment.

Weider Health & Fitness is a privately held global empire of magazines and nutritional products with annual sales of more than $300-million (U.S.).

The company was founded by the Weider brothers who began working out in the 1940s Montreal to defend themselves against anti-Semitic bullies.

When Joe Weider moved the business to California in 1973, sales were about $1-million a year. Thanks in part to the popularity of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the bodybuilding craze took hold and by 1978, sales climbed to $23-million. The Weiders founded the International Foundation of Bodybuilding and publish a series of fitness magazines, including Shape and Flex.

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