Finke Vs. THR Blows Open

A suit titled Penske v. Prometheus may not grab much attention, but when the underlying case is essentially the escalation of a proxy war between Deadline Hollywood founder Nikki Finke and The Hollywood Reporter, Tinseltown takes notice.

Even more intriguing is that the suit, filed in Los Angeles Sept. 14, levels a very serious allegation of copyright infringement against Prometheus Global Media, the parent of THR and Billboard among others.

The suit, filed just days after Finke blasted THR in a Sept. 9 item labeled “Truth Hurts,” accuses Prometheus of “the outright theft of intellectual property, including but not limited to whole articles, content, software, source code and designs.”

The 31-page complaint accuses THR, which it refers to as “a second-rate entertainment industry news source,” of lifting not only information and complete stories from Finke’s but says it “egregiously and flagrantly stole integral source code and intellectual property from PMC’s website in a blatant act of copyright infringement.”

That charge is in addition to Finke’s other complaints about alleged employee poaching, content and website copying. And the evidence cited in the complaint serves to make THR appear not only underhanded but also incompetent to boot.

THR was so incompetent and careless in its theft, that it actually copied the original source code labels exactly as they existed on TVLine, and did not even attempt to rename them,” the complaint says.

The original source code labels contain the initials MMC, an acronym for Penske’s former name Media Corp. The allegedly stolen source code being utilized by THR, according to the complaint, still contains the MMC labels – suggesting the code was copied and pasted without even an attempt to rewrite it.

“These initials act as a clear set of digital fingerprints that further demonstrate the glaringness of THR’s theft,” the complaint says. “THR did not even make an effort to correct typographical errors contained in PMC’s source code. As of the date of this Complaint’s filing, any individual can go to THR’s website and, with the simple click of a mouse, discover THR’s blatant infringement.”

Which The Wrap, another rival website, promptly did – posting the code on its website and pointing out the misspelled word “Caraousel” – all under the clever headline of “Suedja!”

Penske seeks $5 million in actual damages and unspecified statutory damages for each infringement, a permanent injunction, an accounting and disgorgement of earnings made using the infringed copyrights, plus court and legal costs.

The salvo comes days after Finke posted an exchange of letters between lawyers of the respective parent companies, with Prometheus threatening to do the suing and Finke promising an exposé of THR and Prometheus.

She accused Prometheus of siccing its lawyers on her, claiming she was disrupting its business and lying to its advertisers. And she copied her response, which began, “You can stick this letter up your asses…”

It appeared Prometheus had its knickers in a bunch over information that isn’t exactly a closely held secret by just Finke. The letter accused Finke of attempting to gain a competitive edge by telling THR advertisers and others in the Hollywood community that THR is experiencing financial problems that “will cause it to make massive layoffs, end its print edition and/or go out of business, or be sold by Prometheus.”

Industry scuttlebutt suggests that Prometheus is unhappy with the trade publications it picked up from Nielsen Co. last year, including THR and Billboard, and the company could attempt to sell or close them down.

In her response to Prometheus, which she published online Sept. 9, Finke claims the paper continues to cut staff beyond the layoffs initiated over the summer, investors have complained publicly about “how much red ink … is hemorrhaging,” management has complained about problems with ad sales and cash reserves, and says THR “has a gossip editor running it and not a veteran business journalist.”

Finke said comparing to THR is “like comparing The Economist to The National Enquirer.” She adds that Deadline “is an elite business trade about film and TV that does not cover celebrities” before wrapping things up with a not-so-veiled shot at THR editor Janice Min and directing Prometheus lawyers to “get the fuck out of my face.”

Predictably, The Wrap jumped into the fray, incorporating the phrase in its own headline on the story.

The Wrap reports that former Prometheus CEO Richard Beckman told one of its reporters that ad pages were up. But the blog also pointed out that “it is common knowledge that the publication’s operating costs exceed its ad revenue.”

In the letter from Prometheus law firm DeBevoise & Plimpton to PMC CEO Jay Penske, attorneys refute Finke’s alleged assertions.
Apparently, now they will have the opportunity to do so in court, as well.