Dear Amy: I have a problem. My distress has actually been going on since 2002, the year my mother died. As many people know, my mother was Ann Landers, and she was Ann Landers for 47 years. That's a long time to build a brand … and build a brand she did.
Because the name "Ann Landers" was iconic in the second half of the 20th century, people often tell me whenever they hear or see the name now — seven years after her death. Alas, mostly they are hearing it from you. And therein lies my problem.
Most recently you did some television promotion on "Good Morning, America," "The View" and God knows where else. You allowed people, if not encouraged them, to consider you "the new Ann Landers." Well, you are not the "new" Ann Landers because there is no "new" Ann Landers. It is a copyrighted name and trademark, and what that means is that no one else can use it — not to write under, and not to promote themselves.
Before they had fired most everyone at the Tribune (your home paper), a few top editors were informed that introducing you as "the new Ann Landers" was skating close to copyright infringement.They backed off — for a while. But then (because the newspaper business is in trouble and you are flogging a book?) there began yet another round of publicity touting you as the new, well … you know.
In short, when the Tribune hired and syndicated you, that made you their new advice columnist, period. You are no more "the new Ann Landers" than Carolyn Hax, Dan Savage or any of the dozens of advice columnists who were bought by newspapers to fill the space previously occupied by my mother.
By law, the only person who would have been able to become "the new Ann Landers" was me. And that was nothing I chose to do. You see, dear, even I knew that there could only be one Ann Landers. — Margo Howard
Ok, I do have to add just one thing. I looked up the Trib's bio of Amy, to see what they really said about her. Most of the bio lists Amy's many experiences and accomplishments as a journalist, writer, and radio contributor. They mentioned Ann Landers once, as a segue--to say that Amy's column replaced hers is simply fact, not promotion, and I think they were nothing less than respectful and accurate in how they stated it. The potentially offensive paragraph is:
Amy Dickinson joined Chicago Tribune in July 2003 as the newspaper's signature general advice columnist, following in the tradition of the legendary Ann Landers.
I smell a copyright suit! Oh wait, that's just some burning plastic....
**Days later: burning plastic? What? What did I mean by that? Oh well.**