This article is Part 1 of ongoing coverage of the Reality Steve Extortion Lawsuit.
In a case of “Hollywood Extortion”, the producers and distributors of the hit ABC TV reality shows “The Bachelor”, “The Bachelorette”, and “Bachelor Pad” filed a heavy-handed, extortionate lawsuit against Reality Steve blogger, Stephen Carbone of Texas on December 6, 2011. That lawsuit is named: NZK Productions et al vs. Stephen Carbone et al. I refer to it as the “Bachelor” producers vs. Reality Steve lawsuit.
As our regular readers know, ELI primarily focuses on defending against stock photo extortion letters. Because of my own personal interest in nearly all things media, ELI began following other forms of extortion by media-related companies such as Righthaven (newspaper industry). In the normal course of online discussions, past extortion tactics such as the RIAA lawsuits and P2P lawsuits also entered the conversation.
This case of Hollywood extortion came to my attention by virtue of Stephen Carbone’s repeated references to his lawsuit on his blog and website, RealitySteve.com. Like millions of other viewers, I am an occasional viewer of “The Bachelor Series” of reality shows including “The Bachelor”, “The Bachelorette”, and “Bachelor Pad”. (Don’t give me grief over this, please.)
My curiosity finally got the better of me and I decided to dig further into this with PACER along with the RECAP Firefox add-in tool. Steve was helpful with his blog reference “check the public records of the Western Division of California Federal Court from Dec. 7th“. I did exactly that and found his lawsuit using Justia.com except the filing date is listed as December 6, 2011. (Small detail, I easily found it. He was off by 1 day.)
RECAP is a helpful tool to determine if someone else has previously downloaded a particular document in PACER using the RECAP tool. The only thing I saw that was downloaded that was recorded by RECAP was the docket. Interestingly, the Complaint was unrecorded by RECAP. So, I spent the $1.12 to see the complaint myself. (You can thank me for that little contribution to RECAP.)
The lawsuit lists NZK Productions Inc. (formed in CA 8/12/2009) and Horizon Alternative Television Inc. (registered in CA 7/11/2006 , formed in DE 6/19/2006) as plaintiffs. The Hollywood Reporter article from December 7, 2011 initially reported that the plaintiffs of the Reality Steve lawsuit are the producers of the reality shows, “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette”. However, the lawsuit further reveals that the plaintiffs are producers and distributors of all three “Bachelor Series” reality shows: “The Bachelor”, “The Bachelorette”, and “Bachelor Pad” airing on the ABC Network.
The lawsuit lists Stephen Carbone (individually), Reality Steve LLC, and Does (1 through 10) as the defendants. The February 24, 2012 docket entry reveals the members of Reality Steve LLC to be Stephen Carbone and Yea! Networks LLC (a single-member LLC whose sole member’s name is yet unknown). The plaintiffs allow for Does (1 through 10) in the event there are more unknown parties related to this case.
The lawsuit claims that there is “diversity of citizenship” which means that the parties reside in multiple states which would require escalation of the matter to Federal court and remove it from State court. The plaintiff claims in the lawsuit that the matter exceeds $75,000 not including interest, costs, and attorney fees.
On Carbone’s popular blog and website, RealitySteve.com, Carbone has long claimed that show participants and show production employees are required to sign confidentiality agreements preventing them from publicly sharing information of the internal workings and production of the show as well as event outcomes. For the last few years, Carbone regularly posts spoilers (allegedly provided by his private sources), news, editorials, and commentary on the “Bachelor Series” reality shows.
Based on Carbone’s blog comments, RealitySteve.com has long been a thorn in the ABC Networks and “Bachelor” producers’ sides because of the relentless, ongoing and especially accurate nature of his spoilers reporting. Further beyond the spoilers themselves, Carbone regularly uncovers and reports many aspects of the secret inner workings of the show to the delight and entertainment of his fans and readership.
In my reading of the lawsuit allegations against Carbone and Reality Steve, it would appear that Carbone contacted various contestants via email and Facebook and offered monetary compensation for information he could not freely attain. The allegations contend that Carbone was issued written warnings on August 12, 2011 and November 22, 2011 before the lawsuit was ultimately filed on December 6, 2011.
What the plaintiffs are seeking through this lawsuit, is an amount greater than $75,000, punitive damages, attorney fees and costs, and an injunction (essentially a cease-and-desist order) on Carbone and Reality Steve from “interfering with Plaintiffs contracts with participants and employees of the Bachelor series…by soliciting non-public information from participants and employees regarding events that transpire…prior to their broadcast and by offering monetary inducements to participants and employees to disclose such information.”
In reading this lawsuit, there is no question in my mind that the “Bachelor” producers have gone out of their way to put a stomping on their hated mosquito, Carbone. They are indirectly trying to stop and silence the ongoing insider and spoiler reporting and commentary Carbone regularly provides on RealitySteve by claiming “continuing interference”.
In reading a few of Carbone’s comments about the “Bachelor” lawsuit against him, Carbone is not supposed to openly comment on the specifics of his case presumably not to make matters worse for himself by directly or indirectly admitting that he made efforts to contact participants and employees.
But the fact of the matter is even if everything the plaintiffs claim of Carbone is true, so what? What Carbone does with RealitySteve.com is in the same entertainment reporting/tabloid genre as TMZ, PerezHilton, US Magazine, People, National Enquirer, Star Magazine, x17Online, and Eonline. They all dig for dirt, inside information, and yes (gasp!) they pay for it when they can’t get the juicy information for free.
Why aren’t they being sued? One reason is that Carbone is actually too good at what he does. If most of his spoilers and inside information were inaccurate, the “Bachelor” producers would simply laugh Carbone off as another kooky blogger. But the fact that they filed a lawsuit against him is very telling. Carbone is very good at what he does.
The other reason why they are suing Carbone is that he is an easy target. Carbone is a one-man entertainment tabloid reporter who accidentally found a very successful (and perhaps profitable) niche in entertainment reporting focusing on the “Bachelor” reality shows. Because he is largely a one-man operation and not a traditional news reporting organization, that makes him financially vulnerable to ongoing legal fees.
Carbone’s lawyer needs to step up his game here. This is a Goliath vs. David fight where the “Bachelor” producers are clearly the big bullies and Carbone is essentially the little, lone David. Someone needs to get the word out here. If I were Carbone, I would be rallying his supporters for the possibility of a legal fight where he might need reader Paypal contributions for legal funds. Don’t be too proud to ask for help against a much larger, deep-pocketed foe. Get the court of public opinion on your side. This is where his huge readership can come in to help. There might be some smart lawyers amongst them. Ask them if they are willing to help.
I would also contact the folks at EFF. This is the type of high-profile case they would be interested in where a big, bad TV production company tries to stomp on, put a squashing, and otherwise step on the reporting rights of an individual blogger. This case is just ripe for publicity of a yet another large media operation bullying and stepping on the rights of Internet freedom for individuals.
No one in Hollywood will stand up for Carbone because he is clearly outside of the Hollywood system. For someone to stand up for Carbone, would probably mean being blacklisted in Hollywood. The “Bachelor” participants who reported these emails seemed to be pandering to the “Bachelor” producers. I find it difficult to believe they couldn’t block Carbone’s email address or Facebook account if his messages were truly unwelcome.
The lawsuit included some sample messages Carbone allegedly sent. The messages and monetary offers Carbone allegedly sent were often light-hearted, humorous, and certainly non-threatening. Quite frankly, those messages are entirely congruent with his online persona. There is nothing remotely illegal about what Carbone allegedly did in his communications.
I find it interesting that these super-powered, Hollywood lawyers who wrote these supposedly iron-clad contracts and confidentiality agreements would be so afraid and threatened by a lone Texas blogger that gives additional visibility and publicity to that show.
I find the plaintiff allegations laughable to say that what Carbone allegedly did is “unfair and illegal conduct” with his “continuing interference”. How is it “unfair”? That makes it sound like Carbone has more power and influence over the “Bachelor” participants and employees than its producers and that the producers are at Carbone’s mercy. Give me a freaking break.
Since when did it ever become illegal to send someone a personal email or Facebook message? Carbone might have done it more than once to different participants but it didn’t sound like he ran a spamming campaign and no one is accusing him of harassment. He might be offering bribes for inside information but he is not any more guilty than any other entertainment/tabloid reporting publication.
And what about this “continuing interference” nonsense? How is he “interfering” with show operations? From what I can tell, Carbone does most of his Reality Steve work from the comfort of his home in Texas using an ordinary computer to write his blogs and electronically communicate with his information sources and readership community. It isn’t like Carbone is anywhere near Los Angeles (or any other locale) that the show films stalking “Bachelor” participants or employees and offering bribes.
And even if Carbone is offering money in exchange for inside information, isn’t that one of the reasons why the “Bachelor” producers make their participants and employees sign heavy-handed contracts with precise, well-worded confidentiality clauses in their agreements? I am absolutely certain these contracts and agreements cover the consequences of breaking a confidentiality agreement. It falls upon the show participants and employees to uphold their end of the agreement, not Carbone. And what Carbone allegedly did comes nowhere close to entrapping anyone. How hard is it to say no and decline an email or Facebook message offer? It is only one delete-button or delete-click away.
The entertainment reporting/tabloid industry as a matter of course persistently and aggressively looks for news to entertain and feed its readership. And if they have to pay to entice potential informants and information sources to share their information, they will do it. It is perfectly legal and well-accepted in the entertainment reporting/tabloid industry that Carbone and RealitySteve.com clearly works in.
I know some might scream entrapment. The only thing Carbone allegedly offers is payment for information. How many times have we heard of sting operations where female police officers wear provocative, sexy clothing to lure unsuspecting victims to solicit prostitution to bust them? What Carbone does is far more tame and less intrusive than the above scenario.
If the show participants and employees were bothered by it, they can simply block or delete Carbone’s messages. It isn’t difficult in Facebook or most email programs. There is no indication or allegation that Carbone harassed anyone. From what I can see, the “Bachelor” producers have it in for Carbone and this is their excuse to make a legal move on him.
The lawsuit alleges “injury to Plaintiffs reputation and goodwill…with ABC and other television show distributors who must rely on Plaintiffs to ensure that their shows’ contents are not “spoiled” by pre-broadcast disclosure.” What this tells me is that the “Bachelor” producers are filing this lawsuit, in part, to make themselves look good in front of ABC and the other TV show distributors. The fact that the “Bachelor” operations cannot keep secrets season after season is an internal organizational matter. It comes down to poor management. They are embarrassed that other TV productions of much larger shows can keep secrets but they keep failing miserably season after season all because of one lone entertainment reporter/blogger. This is a CYA effort in a huge way.
If they don’t like the “Bachelor” secrets getting out, then they better have better security or start filming the show in closed sets. How about getting better management, do a better job, increase security, and run a tighter ship? To make Carbone their scapegoat is simply pathetic and embarrassing.
What Carbone needs to seriously consider is to file a countersuit against the “Bachelor” producers. They started the fight and he has been put in a defensive position. Well, he should take a page out of the Righthaven lawsuits and countersue for punitive damages, costs, and attorney fees also. And for gosh sake, contact EFF immediately and get their feedback! This will send a strong message to Hollywood and other abusive media companies from engaging in extortionistic tactics against small individuals to get their way.
This is clearly a frivolous SLAPP lawsuit designed to bully and extort Carbone into silence and submission. RealitySteve.com is part of the free press and he has the rights of free and open reporting and freedom of expression on his side. And everyone needs to know about this. If this can happen to him as a blogger, it can happen to anyone of us.
The best way the ordinary person can help Carbone is to create publicity and awareness of his plight. Right now, this story has been relegated to Hollywood circles. They don’t care about him and they won’t help him. But the blogging community should care. For far too long, big media has tried to control what we watch, hear, and know. Big media has consistently attempted to keep the power away from individuals. Stephen Carbone is one of us bloggers. Please spread the word and link to this blog post, the lawsuit, and give Steve a word of encouragement. If you are a lawyer with a blog that wants to help an underdog, please comment and provide legal insights on this case. I will make sure your blog gets attention. Let’s help equalize the fight by giving Steve some legal ammunition and guidance to work with.
Last thing, for the conspiracy theorists, I don’t know Steve Carbone and have never met him. I have never communicated with him and he has no knowledge of this blog post. I wrote this blog post simply because as a fellow blogger, I am incensed. I know something about fighting back and one of those ways is getting the word out online which is what I know how to do.
Update: This post has attracted such a large readership, I felt compelled to write a follow-up: Hollywood Extortion II: “Bachelor” Producers vs. “Reality Steve” Lawsuit Follow-up.