On Wednesday, two of Hollywood’s leading Internet publications went to war. Deadline.com is suing The Hollywood Reporter for copyright infringement, alleging that they stole stories as well as HTML code used in their website.
While the proof of the copied HTML, which can be found here, is irrefutable, the allegations of story stealing are a little muddier. In an open letter to their readers, which can be found here, The Hollywood Reporter claims the stories that were supposedly stolen came from widely circulated press releases. If that’s the case, which I personally believe it is, then Deadline.com is going to end up looking like a joke. And on a personal note, I think it’s a little annoying that this website is attempting to take credit for the information found in the press releases that someone else wrote. I guess it’s true that journalists couldn’t do their jobs without PR people. However, lawsuits happen. C’est la vie.
My main problem with this isn’t the lawsuit itself, but the fact that I know about it at all. When Deadline.com took the lawsuit public, which can be found here, they started a childish game of chicken with The Hollywood Reporter. If THR said nothing in response, it’d be like saying “no comment.” And we all know what that really means. THR posted a single, succinct reply, while Deadline’s rambling initial post was continuously updated as the day went on.
The most interesting part of Deadline’s article was their first update: “UPDATE 1 PM: Yes, Hollywood is indeed buzzing about today’s lawsuit. And so are mediacentric websites.” How exactly is this update newsworthy? It’s not, unless the lawsuit is cry for attention. In THR’s response, they cite Deadline’s flagging readership (1.5 million visitors per month compared to THR’s 4.4 million) as the motivating factor behind their case.
This situation is reminiscent of when Time Warner Cable and Fox were sparring over programming fees and started producing commercials to try and influence public opinion. It could also be compared to the mud-slinging ads we’re subjected to in election years. By making their accusations public, Deadline.com is probably hoping to rally some public support. In my opinion, they’re just damaging their reputation, along with the reputation of THR. The conflicting information presented on each website is only going to confuse readers and make them lose trust in both publications.
And in a time when the journalism industry is crippled and suffering, do we really need publications trying to pick each other off too? I hope, for their readers’ sake as much as their own, that any future developments in this lawsuit are kept behind closed doors. Transparency in the professional world is important; it lets stakeholders know that the company has nothing to hide. However, THR’s and Deadline.com’s actions don’t come across as attempts to be transparent, they come across as immature. They might as well start a Twitter feud with each other, because it would accomplish the same thing (which is nothing).
This showdown is a no-win situation for the publications and their readers.