Boat clubs in Facebook spat

Boat clubs in Facebook spat
Photo by Rebecca Henely
By Rebecca Henely

A lawsuit over a Facebook Web page is putting the current leaders of the Long Island City Community Boathouse at odds with its founder.

The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, a nonprofit based in Brooklyn that is affiliated with the boathouse, levied a suit in Brooklyn federal court in 2011 against Erik Baard, who founded the boathouse in 2004. The boathouse, at 46-01 5th St., offers recreational and educational paddling programs along the East River.

The dispute emerged after Baard created a Facebook fan page for the boathouse in 2009 after he stepped down from the boathouse’s leadership in 2008. Jerry Dunne, an attorney for the Dredgers, said in an e-mail that the fan page is copyright infringement.

“Erik has no longer any affiliation with the LIC Community Boathouse,” Dunne said. “He is a disgruntled former head and founder.”

Baard said that while he stepped down he and the original artist hold the intellectual property rights to the boathouse’s name and logo. He also said the social media giant was asked to remove Baard’s page and did not find it infringing.

“They really should be suing Facebook if they’re so upset,” Baard said.

Part of the dispute revolves around the Dredgers’ relationship to the boathouse. Ted Gruber, chairman emeritus at the boathouse, described in an e-mail the organization as an “activity committee” of the Dredgers.

But Baard said the Dredgers were supposed to act solely as a fiscal conduit for the boathouse for insurance reasons and the partnership could be terminated on either side at any time.

“We had an affiliation with them, but I never signed any contract with them giving them my intellectual property or handing over my ownership,” Baard said.

Baard said he stepped down in 2008 to allow the community to take ownership of the boathouse, although he stayed on as a part of the Dredgers’ board for another year.

Dunne said Baard was terminated from the board and that severed any of Baard’s claims to the boathouse.

“Erik apparently doesn’t play well with authority; and eventually the board of The Gowanus Dredgers had enough of his inappropriate behavior,” Dunne said.

The Dredgers and the current and past chairs of the boathouse have also clashed with Baard over the use of funds, which Baard said were earmarked for certain projects and which Dunne said Baard tried to extract for his own purposes, as well as the ownership of the boathouse’s equipment.

Baard said he wants the court to acknowledge that he retains the property rights and that the boathouse is self-governing and not a subsidiary of the Dredgers.

“We never, never turned over our ownership to them,” he said.

Dunne said the boathouse and Dredgers are doing well together and that Baard does not represent the boathouse’s current interests.

“He could take credit for founding a very successful and worthwhile organization that has contributed much to the NYC paddling scene, but the organization has moved on without him,” Dunne said, “and it’s long past time for him to let go.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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