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'Spare Rib' founders threaten legal action over magazine relaunch

Name is trademarked as original supporters talk of 'a sense of betrayal'

When the relaunch of the feminist magazine Spare Rib was announced in April, its new editor promised it would “feel like a girls’ club” and offer “top tips on keeping our female friends”.

But the new look publication has descended into in-fighting before even hitting the shelves, after the founders of the original magazine became worried that the new incarnation would not do it justice and trademarked the Spare Rib name.

Charlotte Raven, the writer behind the new project, had hoped to relaunch the magazine by this autumn. But she has emailed supporters saying that despite initial support from Rosie Boycott and Marsha Rowe, she had suddenly been threatened with legal action.

“On 3 June, 20 years after Spare Rib’s closure, Marsha applied to trademark the name, which we only found out through our lawyers,” she wrote. “The biggest area of conflict has been over our vision for Spare Rib to be more than just a magazine, but also a grass-roots movement.”

Raven said that instead of “exhausting precious financial resources on legal fees”, the magazine would simply be renamed to avoid starting on an “ugly and entirely wrong note”. The Spare Rib website has now opened a naming bee, asking for suggestions for a new title from readers. By last night, more than 200 had been sent in, including “Riberation” and “Spare McRib”.

Boycott and Rowe, whose magazine closed in 1993 after a 21-year run, have had concerns about the relaunch since April, when it was announced without their prior consent. “This was the magazine that I had co-founded. I was flabbergasted,” said Rowe.

“Old Spare Ribbers were saying that they were astounded, shocked. They expressed a sense of betrayal, as well as of some interest and hopefulness about a revival.”

An email from a former Spare Rib writer forwarded to The Independent read: “If someone wants to relaunch a magazine that already has a history and a following, then it is necessary to talk to the people who launched it in the first place. You cannot just walk into someone’s house, open their wardrobe and say, ‘You aren’t wearing these any more I think I will have them!’” Rowe and Boycott, who is a former editor of The Independent, agreed to meet Raven in May. The pair said they were “very enthusiastic” about the launch and were making preparations to license the name to her as long as the project had a “viable infrastructure” and “the integrity and legacy of the name could be continued”.

But two main areas of discord emerged. Raven wants Spare Rib to be a grassroots movement “with local groups and user-generated content,” but Rowe said that while the magazine grew with the women’s liberation movement and became identified as its public face, it “was not synonymous” with it.

A spokeswoman for Spare Rib said: “Marsha and Rosie’s preference for only a magazine meant they also envisaged some parts of the business plan differently.”

This plan – to provide a free-to-access website but offer different levels of “affordable” membership – rankled with the founders. “Charlotte has jokily suggested ideas: that women can forego something such as waxing in order to pay to become a member,” Rowe said.

“My question is that today there are many women who cannot possibly afford waxing, let alone the amount being asked as the lowest level of monthly membership fee.”

Raven previously said the first 300 people to donate £100 would get a year’s subscription, the status of a founder member and access to an exclusive founders event. But Boycott and Rowe’s expressed concern that money was being crowd-funded on the promise of a magazine that Raven did not yet have the funds for.

When asked whether the arguments reflected badly on the “sisterhood”, Spare Rib’s new incarnation said that though disagreements are not “inherently bad”, it was “difficult to align when the end vision is one that cannot be agreed upon”.