SF Guardian wins ”˜David and Goliath’ suit over Village Voice Media’s SF Weekly

Chalk one up for Bruce Brugmann, the feisty independent publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

According to a blog post by Guardian editor Tim Redmond, a San Francisco jury awarded US$6.39 million today to the four-decade old weekly in a landmark case of predatory pricing.

That post said that the defendants–the San Francisco Weekly and its corporate parent, Village Voice Media–will have to pay US$15.6 million because part of the damages are trebled under state law.

Speaking from San Francisco, Redmond said that he and Brugmann were “thrilled” with the jury’s decision.

“It’s a victory not just for the Guardian, but for the alternative press, for independent publishers everywhere, and for independent small businesses everywhere,” Redmond told the Straight. “What the jury said is, ”˜A big chain can’t come into town and try to put a little guy out of business; you have to have a level playing field.’ ”

The Guardian alleged in court that Village Voice Media, owner of what's known as the New Times chain, violated California's Unfair Practices Act, which makes it illegal for companies to try to destroy competitors by selling products below cost.

Village Voice Media owns the San Francisco Weekly, which was also a defendant, as well as 15 other papers. They plan to appeal, according to the blog posting.

The Straight’s calls to Weekly editor Tom Walsh and that paper’s lawyer on the case, Rod Kerr, were not returned by deadline.

In a December 2007 interview with the Daily Journal, a lawyer for the Weekly, Ivo Labar, argued that the Guardian was using the Weekly as a “scapegoat” for dealing with new challenges to print media.

Predatory pricing
is also illegal in Canada. Criminal predatory pricing has the effect or tendency of substantially lessening competition; the effect or tendency of eliminating a competitor; or be designed to substantially lessen or eliminate a competitor.

Under the Competition Act, a company may file a complaint to the federal Competition Bureau if it has evidence of predatory pricing.