Dr. Phil Sues Gawker Media, Claims Deadspin Stole Manti Te’o Hoaxer Interview Video

Tuiasosopo
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, pictured, the famous Manti Te'o hoaxer who pretended to be Lennay Kekua, gave an exclusive interview to Dr. Phil. YouTube

In a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, Dr. Phil is suing Gawker Media, which owns Deadspin, over claims that the website stole the video of the interview’s conclusion, which lead to a decrease in the show’s ratings.

While Deadspin broke the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, including the catfishing scheme by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the “Dr. Phil Show” got the exclusive interview with the hoaxer. The interview was to be played over two episodes, airing on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, Deadline reported.

Deadspin’s report revealed that Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died in September 2012, and that the Notre Dame linebacker played the season in her memory. It turns out Kekua was not real and was a creation of Tuiasosopo.

The complaint, filed in Texarkana, Texas, claims Deadspin stole the video and promoted the conclusion of Dr. Phil’s interview with Tuiasosopo on its website and thus undercut the show’s ratings. The two episodes of the “Dr. Phil Show” were supposed to draw big ratings, with the Feb. 1 conclusion planned to boast bigger numbers, thanks to the reveal by Tuiasosopo on how he fooled Te’o into believing he was talking to a female over the phone. Instead, the attention went to Deadspin, according to Peteski Productions Inc., the show’s copyright holders.

In the complaint, Peteski Productions claims that “Deadspin and Gawker are serial copyright infringers.” Its main argument: “This is a copyright infringement action which results from Deadspin’s copying of two episodes of the “Dr. Phil Show” which aired on Thursday, January 31 and Friday, February 1, 2013, that contained an exclusive interview with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo (“Tuiasosopo”) who had perpetrated a hoax on Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o by creating a fictitious girlfriend for the Heisman Trophy runner-up.”

According to the complaint, the Jan. 31 show set up the background of the hoax, while the Feb. 1 show was going to conclude with Tuiasosopo recreating the voice he claimed he used to fool Te’o over the phone, after refusing to perform the voice previously.  Peteski Productions says Deadspin had the “Dr. Phil Show” clip on the Deadspin site around 9:30 a.m. EST, hours before the show aired to 98 percent of its audience, effectively damaging the ratings for the show.

Peteski Productions says the Tuiasosopo interview was its “exclusive” and, with the work of the production crew, had several measures, including a media blackout that prevented the Te’o hoaxer from speaking to other outlets until after the “Dr. Phil Show” aired, in place to make sure the show’s ratings were not undermined.

The complaint concludes, “They did not conduct the interview, they stole it. They did not ask permission, they blatantly and knowingly infringed the copyright of the content owner and did so in a way that furthered their interest to the maximum and undercut the rightful owner of the protected material.” Peteski Productions is seeking punitive damages and a jury trial.

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