Penske Media Corporation (PMC), the owner of Nikki Finke’s Deadline.com, is suing Prometheus Global Media, the owner of The Hollywood Reporter (THR), over allegations of copyright infringement, escalating an explosive exchange this week through their respective outlets.
At the risk of discussing too “inside baseball,” here’s some brief background. The sparring matches date back to February, when PMC lawyers sent a formal case and desist letter to Prometheus claiming THR was “misappropriating context” from Deadline. THR responded by asking for specific examples of the supposed “content theft.” No examples were provided, according to THR.
Fast forward to September, when THR sent a letter to PMC alleging Finke’s disapproval of THR had become “a concerted and unlawful attempt to disrupt” their business. The touchy Finke fired back with this response, promising to post a full article on THR’s financial woes and concluding it with a classy “Now get the f*ck out of my face.” THR reacted simply by posting their initial notice to PMC. Then, on September 14, PMC filed a 45-page lawsuit, listing its original content theft claim, allegations that THR was attempting to poach contractually-obligated PMC employees and that the Hollywood Reporter ripped off the source code for a carousel feature (the evidence there is damning, but still trivial). The Hollywood Reporter has since removed their carousel feature while it investigates.
Aside from website design practices, the battle over copyright infringement becomes a sticky one for outlets (namely blogs, like this one) that excerpt, cite, and comment on reports published in trade publications, including Deadline and THR. Nikki Finke is notoriously, laughably litigious, but in this case the outcome could impact your favorite movie website, especially if PMC wins, and the squabbling over Hollywood headlines will only worsen.
Sadly, this is just a bitter extension of reporters’ chest-beating over “exclusives” regularly, branding “Toldja!” to a story no one cared much about the first time around, then bickering about who may have had a measly tidbit first. Some C-lister lands a supporting role with a first-time indie director? An actor switches talent agencies? A nobody gets promoted to marketing manager at a middling studio? Congratulations on enriching the world with these latest developments, and publishing them minutes before your competition. To Twitter!
Nevermind that neither side cares to acknowledge the other as an industry rival, despite only slightly divergent leans from what is ultimately a core business model of churning pageviews by digging up Hollywood’s dirt. Informative, ethical journalism is a distant second to the ultimate goal of snatching eyeballs, just as the 24-hour TV news cycle is filled with theatrics for the sake of ratings.
THR’s editors have turned their online outlet into essentially a well-funded blog, puffing up celebrity gossip because it reliably generates clicks, or fawning over The Dark Knight Rises set videos even more than the “fanboys.” Not from some insatiable fascination with Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film — otherwise they’d be out in L.A. themselves, not scouring YouTube or the blogs for hand-held footage — but because invoking its title is steak for hungry search engines, usurping Twilight as the go-to topic for quick, easy hits.
While Deadline allows Mike Fleming and Nellie Andreeva a platform for solid, legitimate breaking news, it still primarily remains an outlet for Finke’s ego. She peppers movies she seemingly hasn’t seen in her weekly box office round-up or excoriates a defenseless executive, ever the opinionated villainess. Conveniently, maybe out of reclusion, she shrinks behind a keyboard, refusing to show her face while pecking out pithy outbursts, like every other anonymous Internet troll that spews bile at anyone who dares to disagree. And the hits keep coming.
In the end, it just reads like pure wrestling to me. Open call-outs that are no doubt mutually beneficial, quietly basking in the “buzz” their public feud incites, while willfully ignoring how especially silly it appears on the outside. Both sides are demanding a court battle, and I would expect nothing less. “Get in the ring!” is just the kind of thing a heel barks into a microphone every week on television. And the crowd goes berserk.
That’s where professional wrestling and this ridiculous battle differ. You see, part of a WWE fan’s enjoyment is that the “opposing” meatheads are in on it. Slim Slam the Snake Charmer boosts his profile by taking on The Bull (and vice versa), who duke it out between the ropes with punches and neck-breaking suplexes, but always with a self-aware wink that let’s you know it’s fiction. For the fans. Only in this case, Deadline and THR trade blows in print and the readers, those eyeballs they clawed to reach with every “exclusive,” are left wondering where all the professionals went.