Nikki Finke's Phantom Lawsuit

Litigious recluse and Deadline.com founder Nikki Finke has escalated her tiresome war with The Hollywood Reporter—her boss Jay Penske is suing THR's parent company for copyright infringement, for allegedly stealing code. But that's kind of boring! So they dressed up the lawsuit in a whole bunch of other fun, utterly irrelevant claims.

Penske Media Corporation—which used to be known as Mail.com Media Corporation—filed a complaint against THR's parent company Prometheus Global Media in federal district court today with one very specific, lonesome count of copyright infringement. It seems TVLine.com, which Penske owns, developed specific code to create some sort of customizable "module" on the site's front page. THR's web site uses a similar module. Penske claims THR actually copied-and-pasted TVLine's code over to its own site, citing certain artifacts in the TVLine code—like references to "MMC," or Mail.com Media Corp., in tags—that are present in THR's code. It's actually a fairly compelling argument.

To recap: TVLine.com's parent company is suing THR's parent company over some web code. You know what that story's missing? Nikki Finke!

Enter 24 pages of immaterial carping that rehearses every bilious complaint Finke has made about THR and its editor Janice Min in the past two years. For instance: "THR tried to poach [Penske's] key employees, by urging each employee to breach their existing and exclusive contractual obligations to [Penske]." Heavens! The complaint trots out some previously known details about THR's attempt to hire Finke herself, including "a $450,000 base salary, plus a $1 million Malibu home...plus a percentage of the cable TV revenue THR was expecting (which [an investor] specifically estimated ar $650,000 annually)." THR also allegedly made runs at Deadline's TV reporter, Nellie Andreeva, and senior sales director Nic Paul. And it successfully lured away Deadline publisher Lynn Segal. What's interesting about all this is that Penske isn't suing THR over any of it. There are no counts in the complaint alleging anything about the poaching attempts. They just threw it in there, to get a little Nikki in the mix.

The hiring claims are followed by a hilarious, and well done, 15-page passage recounting no less than 28 stories allegedly broken by Deadline that THR picked up, in almost identical form, within minutes or hours of their original publication, allegedly without credit or attribution. It's fairly compelling evidence that THR systematically just rewrites and re-reports Deadline scoops without crediting the site for breaking them. That's annoying! And it might potentially even be actionable—not under copyright law, but under the so-called "Hot News Doctrine," whereby publishers of exclusive and proprietary information can sue copycats who reproduce it immediately. Either way, Penske ought to give thought to a lawsuit.

Because he hasn't yet. After listing a litany of cases in which THR "monitored, copied, and regurgitated [Deadline's] hard-earned and created content," the Penske complaint goes on to sue over none of them. Again, the suit has one count: That THR stole TVLine's code. That's it. They're asking for more than $5 million. It has literally nothing to do with Deadline.