The class-action lawsuit filed by Jonathan Tasini isn’t the only questionable legal claim that The Huffington Post is fighting off right now. Last year-that is, six years after The Huffington Post was founded, two Democratic political consultants, Peter Daou and James Boyce, filed a lawsuit saying that The Huffington Post was actually their idea. While the Daou-Boyce suit has drawn skepticism from observers, the judge overseeing the case won’t let HuffPo off easily; in a hearing yesterday, he said the suit is not frivolous and should move forward.
Daou and Boyce haven’t won, and the lawsuit is still at an early stage. But it sounds like they will be allowed to move ahead with discovery, the evidence-gathering phase of litigation, which tends to be the most expensive and burdensome part of a case like this.
“These people were apparently involved with the earliest efforts to create The Huffington Post,” the judge said, according to a report from the Law360 legal newswire. “This is not a frivolous lawsuit.”
The judge also exhibited some frustration about the point of case law that HuffPo’s lawyer was using to prove their case, although it’s not exactly clear from the Law360 report what that issue was. It has something to do with what is required to prove the existence of a “joint venture” under New York law.
In their lawsuit, Peter Daou and James Boyce say that it was they who drafted a plan for a liberal news website; essentially a Democratic version of The Drudge Report. Now they’re suing Arianna Huffington and her co-founder, Kenneth Lerer, for breach of contract, saying there was a “partnership” between the two. The initial idea was to call the site fourteensixty.com, named after the 1460-day cycle between presidential elections.
Huffington herself has been dismissive of this claim, and early on wrote to Daou and Boyce, saying: “Your suggestion, after nearly 6 years, that you understood all along that we were in a ‘partnership’ to create and operate the Huffington Post is stunning. And ridiculous.”
And why did the two six years to decide to sue? Six years in which they actually voluntarily contributed to HuffPo by as unpaid bloggers? At yesterday’s hearing, Daou and Boyce’s lawyer, Partha Chattoraj, offered a kind of explanation, saying that the two couldn’t have picked a fight with such a powerful liberal publication without angering their clients, who were Democratic politicians. “This is not about two gentlemen who are looking for a quick score,” said Chattoraj.
These types of “stolen idea” claims seem to proliferate, unfortunately, against successful companies; to paraphrase JFK, success has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan.
The Boyce-Daou lawsuit got a lot of publicity following an extensive write-up in the February issue of Vanity Fair; a HuffPo spokesman told Business Insider that piece was so weak it should have been killed. He continued: “As we’ve said before, it defies reason and human nature, if they really believed they had created the Huffington Post, that they would wait six years before speaking up. At some point over the last 72 months, they would have contacted us to complain or asked us to credit them somewhere on the site or insisted on getting stock. Something. Anything! But they didn’t, because they know that they have absolutely no claim to ownership.”
» The lawsuit was filed in New York state court and is being overseen by Judge Charles Ramos.
» Huffington and Lerer’s motion to dismiss was filed in January. [PDF]