Since I know one of the plaintiffs and one of the potential witnesses in this case, I was pretty sure what happened is something you see all the time in business: You present an idea, someone with money and power takes it and oh well! How nice that this will have a happier ending:
Two Democratic consultants who claim they supplied Arianna Huffington and Ken Lerer with the idea for the Huffington Post have filed an amended version of their lawsuit, saying emails and other documents they obtained through discovery show how the defendants appropriated the concept and attempted to cover their tracks.
In the new filing, the plaintiffs, Daou and Boyce, accuse Huffington and Lerer of playing a double game with them in late 2004 and early 2005, as plans for the website were coming together.
“[A]t the same time as Huffington and Lerer were soliciting Boyce’s and Daou’s ideas and plans, telling them that they were building together what would become The Huffington Post, and shaking hands with Boyce and Daou in a manifestation of their business relationship, we now know that Huffington and Lerer were secretly sending Plaintiffs’ ideas to other individuals and developing their own business venture…while excluding them from ownership and control,” reads the complaint.
Those “other individuals” were Roy Sekoff, HuffPost’s founding editor, and Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who worked on the launch in its early stages. (Breitbart died in March 2012.) On Dec. 7, 2004 — three days after Boyce and Daou say Huffington and Lerer agreed to work with them — Huffington emailed a copy of Boyce’s proposed business plan to Sekoff, along with Lerer’s critique of it. Within two weeks, Breitbart had been recruited as well.
The similarities between the Boyce/Daou plan and the HuffPost that eventually emerged without their involvement were documented in the original complaint, filed in November 2010.
In discovery, however, the plaintiffs obtained the minutes of a meeting held March 29, 2005, at which Huffington, Lerer, Sekoff and Breitbart “discussed possible responses to press inquiries on the subject of when and how the idea for the website originated.” According to the minutes, Sekoff and Breitbart suggested that Huffington and Lerer deflect questions about how they came together by saying it “doesn’t matter.”
The plaintiffs say the exchanges detailed in the minutes “reflect the deliberate creation of a false and fraudulent ‘narrative’ to explain the origin of the idea for The Huffington Post.”
This is, as you can guess, an expensive problem for AOL and HuffPo. Karma!