Deadline.com parent company Penske sues The Hollywood Reporter [Updated]
The ongoing battle between two entertainment industry trade publications for advertising dollars in a brutally competitive market moved to court Wednesday as the parent company of Deadline.com sued the parent of The Hollywood Reporter.
Penske Media Corp., which owns controversial editor Nikki Finke's Deadline.com and television fan site tvline.com, among other online properties, is seeking more than $5 million in damages from Prometheus Global Media, owner of The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard and Adweek.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Wednesday contends that The Hollywood Reporter's website stole code from tvline.com in order to build an identical-looking module to highlight stories on its home page.
As potential evidence, it points to similarities between the code on the two sites, including the misspelling of the word "carousel" and the use of the initials "MMC." Penske Media Corp. was previously known as Mail.com Media Corp.
A spokeswoman for Prometheus did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The complaint also includes 28 examples of news stories that allegedly first appeared on Deadline's site and soon after were reported on HollywoodReporter.com. But Penske Media does not allege any violations of civil code or seek damages based on "copying" of its news.
"There seems to be a pattern of behavior that started with them trying to poach key employees, then quickly responding to the stories we were breaking by copying them and ultimately stealing source code," said Penske Media chief executive Jay Penske in an interview.
Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter have been seeking to boost their businesses in an increasingly crowded field -- also occupied by industry trade outlets Variety and The Wrap -- since they were each acquired by their current owners in 2009.
Deadline has gone on to hire several journalists to work alongside Finke, while the Reporter has turned from a daily print tabloid to a glossy weekly magazine and increased coverage of breaking news on its website.
As they have each grown, the two publications have found themselves at odds.
The former vice president of entertainment for Penske Media, Lynne Segall, left to become publisher of The Reporter in June, after less than a year on the job. She previously oversaw entertainment ad sales for the Los Angeles Times.
Earlier this month, a lawyer for Prometheus sent a letter to Penske Media that, according to a post on Deadline, alleged that Finke engaged "in a concerted and unlawful attempt to disrupt THR's business" by spreading rumors in Hollywood that The Reporter was experiencing financial problems.
Finke responded with a profanity-laced letter that was posted on her site.
[Updated at 6:21 p.m.: The Hollywood Reporter issued a statement in response to the lawsuit Wednesday. In response to teh charges of stolen Web code, it said:
Today was the first we heard about any allegation regarding the code for the 'carousel' feature on our website, which was coded for us by a third-party vendor. We take the allegation seriously and have, as of today, removed the carousel feature while we look into the matter.
Noting the allegations of stolen stories and job offers to Deadline employees, for which Penske Media did not seek damages, The Reporter denied both charges. Regarding the allegedly stolen news, it said:
[The complaint] is replete with examples of stories that originated from widely-released press releases from publicists, or widespread confirmations from publicists to numerous outlets, including both The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline.com. It is not copyright infringement to report these stories, even if on occasion Deadline.com posts them first.
-- Ben Fritz
Photo: The Hollywood Reporter website home page.