Television host Philip "Dr. Phil" McGraw's Peteski Productions filed a copyright-infringement suit yesterday against Gawker Media. Peteski accuses Deadspin of having harmed the ratings of two episodes of the Dr. Phil program by posting video clips from the show—in which McGraw interviewed Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the confessed perpetrator of the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax—online.
Peteski Productions is arguing that Deadspin spoiled a two-part cliffhanger on the Dr. Phil program by posting a clip of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo speaking in what he said was the voice of the fictitious girlfriend "hours before the Dr. Phil Show aired to over 98% of its viewers." In other words, the clip was posted after the episode of Dr. Phil had already been broadcast in some markets, breaking the show's own news blackout on the question of whether or not Tuiasosopo would perform the female voice.
According to Broadcasting & Cable, the first and second parts of the interview drew 4.8 million and 4.3 million viewers respectively, exceeding the show's average of 4.1 million. That performance helped make Dr. Phil the No. 1 rated syndicated talk show for that sweeps period.
The two posts on Deadspin that dealt with the interview have received, as of this writing, a total of 164,428 pageviews. That's 1.8 percent of the 9.1 million total viewers that Dr. Phil drew with the interview.
The lawsuit specifically claims that Deadspin's second-day post caused viewership to drop between the first and second parts of the interview. That post has 103,342 pageviews; Dr. Phil lost 500,000 viewers. So by Dr. Phil's account, Deadspin's use of the video clip discouraged some 400,000 people from watching the program even though they could not possibly have seen the video clip on Deadspin.
The lawsuit quotes former Deadspin editor (and now former Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio) as having mentioned the site's "dubious reputation as content remoras." The suit goes on to explain what a remora is:
A remora is a fish, sometimes called a suckerfish, which attaches itself to other fish like sharks. The host fish gains nothing from the relationship but the remora is enriched by obtaining benefits (usually food and transportation) from the host.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's involvement in the Manti Te'o hoax, the basis for the Dr. Phil program's interest in interviewing him, was first publicly reported by Deadspin.
(I was working at Deadspin during this period and helped edit the Te'o coverage, though I didn't edit the Dr. Phil posts. Also I was brought up to believe that anyone who goes by "Dr." without an M.D. is a charlatan.)