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Reality TV producers often make contestants sign confidentiality agreements and enact high penalties should secrets be leaked. So what happens when contestants have legitimate gripes and must go to court to air their grievances? Do they then have the right to air the show’s dirty laundry?
That tricky question is the subject of a legal complaint filed on Tuesday, in which a producer claims that contestants who blabbed about the show’s outcome in a legal filing “destroyed the commercial value” of a series.
Sean Morrison says in his lawsuit that he was the financier of a reality television series known as Ultimate Women’s Challenge and foreclosed on rights to the show after the original producer, LHP Entertainment, didn’t pay back a $600,000 loan.
The financial problems associated with Ultimate Women’s Challenge also presented difficulties for seven female contestants who agreed to appear on the show for $100 per day, with the competition’s champion being promised $50,000 in cash and prizes, and runners-up being promised other amounts.
The women allegedly didn’t get their money, so last month they filed a breach of contract claim against the producer. In the complaint, the plaintiffs detailed who was owed what — allegations which, of course, revealed who had emerged victorious.
The show hadn’t run on air yet, though, so news of the legal punch was caught by a MMA website, happy to spill the details of the allegations, including the show’s winner.
Morrison now claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Illinois federal court that the revelation ruined the prospects of finding a network to air the show. He’s suing the seven female contestants for misappropriating trade secrets, and their law firm, O’Flaherty Heim Egan & Birnbaum, for tortiously interfering with the contract.
In the past couple of years, there’s been a couple of lawsuits where reality show producers have sued for tortious interference after the revelation of a secret. For instance, the BBC sued HarperCollins in an attempt to stop a book from revealing the costumed stunt driver in its successful series “Top Gear.” (The claim was unsuccessful.) And last year, CBS was able to gain the identity of a contestant who blabbed secrets about “Survivor” through the court system. (The contestant was on the hook for violating his $5 million contract confidentiality clause.)
But Morrison’s lawsuit goes a step further by extending the tortious interference claims to the legal representative of the contestants.
The reality producer is claiming that in the course of representing the women, co-defendant Nicholas Thompson at O’Flaherty Heim reviewed the contestants’ agreement and should have known the sensitive nature of the information he outlined in his lawsuit claiming owed money.
The defendant law firm “had a duty to maintain the confidentiality…and should have filed the LHP Lawsuit without disclosing the results of individual matches,” says the complaint, adding that the firm could have filed its complaint under seal.
Thompson wasn’t available for comment.
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