Dr. Phil Sues Gawker for Copyright Infringement

Dr. Phil Headshot - P 2011
Getty Images

Dr. Phil Headshot - P 2011

Phil McGraw's Peteski Productions has filed suit against Gawker Media for posting footage of the TV therapist's Dr. Phil show interview with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man behind the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, on its sports gossip blog, Deadspin.com.

Filed Monday in Texarkana, Texas, the suit claims the website posted the juiciest parts of the interview online before it had aired in the majority of Dr. Phil markets. The lawsuit (read here in full) also includes a paraphyletic reference to make an attack on the system of content aggregation.

"A remora is a fish, sometimes called a suckerfish, which attaches itself to other fish like sharks," reads the complaint. "The host fish gains nothing from the relationship but the remora is enriched by obtaining benefits (usually food and transportation) from the host ... Gawker received substantial benefits from its infringement but Pateski received nothing that is, unless its damages are compensated in this lawsuit."

Part one of the two-part interview -- which aired over two days -- had ended on a cliffhanger, with viewers left unsure whether Tuiasosopo would speak in the female voice that allegedly duped Te'o into thinking he was carrying on a long-distance relationship with a woman named "Lennay Kekua."

In part two, Tuiasosopo spoke in Kekua's voice.

The suit alleges that Deadspin stole copyrighted material and made it available to viewers online, resulting in lower ratings for the second episode. The video of the second show is said to have been posted at 9:30 AM, which according to the complaint, was "hours before the Dr. Phil Show aired to over 98% of its viewers."

STORY: Manti Te'o Hoaxster Tells Dr. Phil He Was Molested as a Child

Filed on behalf of Peteski by lawyers Chip Babcock of Houston and George McWilliams of Texarkana, the claim seeks actual damages at an amount to be proven at trial, an injunction preventing Gawker Media from continuing to infringe on Peteski Production’s copyright of Dr. Phil episodes, plus punitive damages meant to deter Gawker Media from engaging in such behavior in the future.

Without any settlement, the lawsuit figures to explore the question of whether posting excerpts of TV shows online when not all time zones have gotten a chance to see the on-air broadcast, is covered or not by the fair use exceptions to copyright law. When judges examine fair use, they examine four factors -- the purpose and character of use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount used and the effect of the use on the potential market.

Deadspin originally broke the Te'o story in January, igniting one of the most sensational media storms of the year. The story has over four million views.

In the latest lawsuit, the plaintiff accuses Deadspin of committing copyright infringement against others. According to the complaint, "In January of 2013, it published a lengthy article regarding the hoax and imbedded in the story a three minute news broadcast from CBS This Morning. A month later, the three minute broadcast was removed in favor of a shorter clip with a note that said: 'CBS This Morning video edited at request of CBS.' This 'request' was a demand to cease and desist using CBS' copyrighted material."

Peteski's complaint also mentions Gawker's own expectation of being paid for copyrighted content and Deadspin's pride in releasing "exclusives," which quotes former editor A.J. Daulerio as those "unique circumstances wherein we feel it's necessary to inform dumb readers that the story they are reading on this site was generated here and only here despite our dubious reputation as content remoras."

We've reached out to Gawker Media and will update with any comment.