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The producers of the hit ABC reality shows, The Bachelor and The Bachelorette are suing a man who runs a website running spoilers, claiming the defendant is attempting to have contestants breach their confidentiality pledges.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in California federal court by NZK Productions and Alternative Television, Inc.
The complaint targets Stephen Carbone, who runs a website entitled realitysteve.com, which regularly publishes updates and spoilers on shows including The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, Jersey Shore, and Survivor.
Carbone is accused of obtaining confidential information about the Bachelor series by contacting and soliciting information from participants, cast, crew, and other employees of the series. These individuals sign contracts that promise not to divulge non-public information about the show. Show employees leak spoilers at the risk of paying high penalties, often in the millions of dollars. Nevertheless, Carbone allegedly contacted them with knowledge they were subject to confidentiality obligations.
The plaintiff production companies include examples of Carbone’s activity, such as a purported e-mail from him on November 17 to a participant on The Bachelor. It reads:
“Let me just say, I’m very well aware of your contract. I also know that over 500 contestants have been on this show and not one of them has ever been sued for the $5 million. It’s just a scare tactic. Trust me. Just like they had no idea you sent me that last email, they’ll have no idea about any correspondence either. I know you’re scared and a little paranoid by it, but don’t be. Unless they are hacking your email or tapping your phone, there’s absolutely no way for them to find out.”
It appears the producers did find out and are willing to prove that the confidentiality provisions in a cast contract are more than just a “scare tactic.”
Carbone is alleged to have offered this Bachelor participant a monetary incentive to induce her to breach her contract. He allegedly wrote, “Since you are a student, and I know you have loans up the ying-yang, I’d be willing to compensate you…I swear, this is the easiest money you’d ever make and you and I are the only two people that would know.”
A day later, Carbone followed up with another purported email that said, “$2500 to help me out. Not joking. Some of this stuff is driving me nuts ha ha.”
The complaint goes on to list other examples, including an email to a former contestant so as to learn what happened after elimination and a message sent via Facebook to another contestant promising compensation for blabbing secrets.
The producers say they sent Carbone a cease-and-desist letter on August 12 and again on November 22, but that the legal warnings were ignored. The producers, represented by Linda Burrow at Caldwell Leslie & Proctor, are now suing for intentional interference with contractual relations and unfair competition and demanding at least $75,000 in damages and an injunction.
This isn’t the first time that reality show spoilers triggered a lawsuit. Last year, Survivor producer Mark Burnett‘s company filed a lawsuit against a “John Doe” in order to compel discovery and find out who which former contestant was leaking secrets. Burnett’s company eventually found their target.
The latest lawsuit, however, is the first one that we’re aware of that uses a tortious interference claim (most famously dissected in the 1999 Oscar-nominated film, The Insider) to clamp down on leaks by seeking damages from those who would contact show contestants. It also represents a big move against spoiler websites, which often drive entertainment producers up the wall.
UPDATE: Carbone has put a statement up on this website that includes his attorney’s communications with the plaintiffs. In letter sent, Carbone’s attorney says there has been “no interference” with participants’ contracts and hints at legal recourse. The most recent response to claims made, read: “For your clients to sue Mr. Carbone would be unnecessary– at best a waste of the parties time and expense and at worst, an illegal slap action attempting to deny Mr. Carbone’s First Amendment rights.”
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