When Venus Fashions and Grapholite Moses Printers LTD launched their Hebrew Language magazine Belle in Israel, Elle, the international women’s magazine sued for an injunction. Both magazines focus on women’s fashion, beauty, health, and entertainment.
Elle was founded in 1945. With a circulation of over a million copies a month, it is the world’s most popular woman’s magazine. Although translated into some two dozen languages, there is no Hebrew edition.
Elle means “she” in French, and Belle means “Pretty Woman”.
In granting a temporary injunction, Judge Yehuda Zefet ruled that many readers would not know what Belle meant. Personally, I would assume a greater literacy amongst Israeli women, and would expect them to know what both elle and belle mean. I also find the judge’s ruling that the B gets swallowed when saying belle unconvincing. B is a labial sound that is formed by the lips and is NOT swallowed.
The judge correctly points out that the magazine covers are similar, in that in each case the name is written across the top and there is a photo of an attractive female underneath. However, this style of magazine cover design is hardly unique to Elle, and is shared by other women’s (and indeed men’s magazines).
Although, it is not impossible that someone would see the magazine and assume it was Elle in Hebrew, since Elle does not have a Hebrew version yet, confusion would hardly be likely to affect Elle’s sales. Nevertheless, the judge ruled that Elle had a good chance to prevail in the main judgment and that Belle, with only one issue under their belt is not well-known so issuing a temporary injunction against the publishers using the name Belle would have only minor consequences for them.
Judge Zefet issued a temporary injunction against Belle, awarding Elle costs of NIS 35,000 – close to $10,000. Belle’s owners have been ordered to collect the unsold magazines from distributors in the meantime, with Elle posting a security to cover damages if they lose the main case.
We note that there are a number of magazines called Belle in other countries (see above) and consider both names somewhat generic. Ironically, I doubt that Elle could have got an injunction against Belle in a French-speaking country like France or Belgium. It seems rather like Woman’s Own getting an injunction against Woman’s Weekly, or Time Magazine getting an injunction against the New York Times.