Two politicos who sued Arianna Huffington and her partner for stealing their idea for the Huffington Post will get to go forward after a New York judge refused to throw out the lawsuit.
The tale of intrigue amidst the media elite of the Democratic party began last year when Peter Daou and James Boyce, both advisers to the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign, filed a lawsuit against the Huffington Post founders last November. Daou says he penned a memo about a “new kind of Democratic news-reporting website and blogging ‘ring’ or collective” but that Huffington stole the idea and cut him out of the loop before she launched the Huffington Post in May of 2005.
Huffington and co-founder Ken Lerer filed to dismiss the suit but state judge Charles Ramos ruled yesterday that the plaintiffs could continue with their claim under a New York law that allows people to sue if someone steals an idea that is both novel and concrete. In the ruling, the judge noted that Huffington appeared to have conceded that the idea was indeed a new one when she told Playboy in 2006, “There’s a tremendous advantage in being the first with something .. We were the first hybrid of news and group blog.”
Ramos found that the plaintiffs had raised enough questions about the origin of the Huffington Post for the issue to be decided at a trial. This does not means that Daou and Boyce have proved their case but rather that they have overcome an important preliminary hurdle. The ruling may also increase the pressure on Huffington to settle the case before further details about the origins of her site are put before a jury.
Huffington has been dismissive about the claims by Daou and Boyce, saying it was “stunning” and “ridiculous” for them to state six years after the fact that they believed they had been partners all along. The spat was also chronicled by Vanity Fair in a February piece entitled “Huffing and Puffing.”
Huffington did obtain a minor victory after the judge threw out the plaintiffs’ related claims for breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment. This is not especially significant, however, because plaintiffs in civil lawsuits will often plead multiple claims while knowing that the case will stand or fall on the basis of the strongest of them. The original complaint by Daou and Boyce asked the New York Supreme Court to grant an unspecified amount in damages.
UPDATE: Mario Ruiz, a spokesman for Huffington Post provided the following statement on Wednesday night: “Seven out of the eight claims were thrown out. To describe this as any kind of victory is as laughable as their lawsuit.”
Partha Chattoraj, the attorney for Daou and Boyce, responded on Thursday morning: “Arianna Huffington and Ken Lerer may say that they find “laughable” the court’s decision to uphold our claim that they stole my clients’ ideas for the Huffington Post, but we are gratified to have the opportunity to bring the truth to light.”