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Mar 15 2012

“The Bachelor” Producers File Lawsuit to Silence Blogger “Reality Steve”

In a move that may be an example of cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face, the producers of the immensely popular dating elimination show “The Bachelor” have filed a Federal lawsuit in an attempt to shut down “RealitySteve.com,” the website of Steve Carbone. For years, “Reality Steve” has written about all of the The Bachelor series -The Bachelorette, Bachelor Pad, and other reality empires like Real Housewives and The Kardashians. He also posts “spoilers” about the shows – revealing eliminations and backstage goings-on before they are aired on the shows themselves. That apparently has finally tiffed off the plaintiffs enough to make them bring this action for presently unspecified damages and a permanent injunction barring him from revealing this type of information.

Of course, the First Amendment protects Steve’s right to print what he wants about any information he legally receives. What the plaintiffs are claiming however is that he has received this information from persons who have signed confidentiality agreements with the producers and that he is therefore “tortiously interfering” with their contract with the alleged sources.

In order to win on this claim in California a plaintiff must prove the following five elements: (1) a valid contract existing between plaintiff and another person; (2) the defendant had knowledge of the contract and intended to induce a breach thereof; (3) the contract was breached by the other party to the contract; (4) the breach was caused by defendant’s wrongful or unjustified conduct; (5) plaintiff suffered damage as a result of the breach.

Reality Steve’s site has a privacy policy that states that he does not ask for or pay for information from a person who is an employee of the producers or under a confidentiality agreement. So it looks like there will be factual issues as to whether Steve intended to induce anyone to breach their contract (#2) and whether anyone actually breached their contract (#3). There would also be a defense if any person who breached the contract said they would have done it anyway and did not do it because of anything Steve did to make them do it (#4).

One thing is curious about issue number 3 – whether someone breached their confidentiality agreement. Steve has stated publicly on his site after the filing of the lawsuit that none of his information came from people under contract and that the lawsuit is therefore frivolous. The lawsuit doesn’t name any ex-contestant or employee specifically but it does list several “John Does” as potential defendants and says it will name them when identified. So if they don’t know that anyone revealed confidential information how did they have the necessary facts to file this lawsuit? They claim to have emails from Steve to the contestants where Steve allegedly offers money for information, but if the info was not provided, there’s no interference. Did they reach out to the email recipients? Can they connect the emails to “spoilers” that are then revealed on the site? Seems like this factual issue should have been in the plaintiff’s hands before they filed this lawsuit. They certainly have the money and the leverage to find out if any ex-employees or ex-contestants gave confidential information.

But I think (#5), damages, can also be a strong factor in favor of Steve as it can be argued that his posts and “spoilers” have built up the following of the show and have not damaged the show. He may also be able to argue that ABC allowed his site to continue because it was helpful to their brand as it drove viewers and commentary. Many of the folks who post on Steve’s site say they would not watch these shows if it wasn’t for Steve’s comments and spoilers. It would be interesting to see if ABC ever had a link to Steve’s site on their website or if they ever promoted his site in any way. So I think damages is certainly something his lawyers will address.

Whether the producers have the facts to back this up will determine whether this was a valid claim against someone who is damaging a valuable TV franchise or whether this was just the latest example of a “bullying” lawsuit filed to try and force the little guy choose between doing battle in court against a media giant or folding under mounting legal fees and pressure. Right now, based on the bare bones complaint filed in court, it smells like the latter.

If this has been going on for awhile, and the shows have not suffered as a result of Steve’s postings, then its curious why ABC and their producers would file this in the first place. As usual, will keep you posted on how this shakes out.

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