'Dr. Phil Show' Copyright-Infringement Suit Involving Girlfriend Hoax Comes to an End

'Dr. Phil Show' Copyright-Infringement Suit Involving Girlfriend Hoax Comes to an End Mark Graham Charles L. Chip Babcock, a partner in the Houston and Dallas offices of Jackson Walker

Peteski Productions Inc., owner of the copyright to the syndicated “Dr. Phil Show,” has settled its suit against Gawker Media for allegedly scooping the show on an interview with the perpetrator of a girlfriend hoax.

“The case settled to the mutual satisfaction of the parties,” said Jackson Walker partner Chip Babcock, who represents Peteski.

Babcock, who has offices in Houston and Dallas, said the parties reached a settlement following a mediation conducted Feb. 27 by T. John Ward, former district judge in the Eastern District of Texas. The settlement is confidential, said Babcock, who declined to comment further.

Robert S. Harrell, a partner in Norton Rose Fulbright in Houston, and Texarkana solo Lance Lee, attorneys for Gawker, did not return a telephone call to each of their offices.

Talk show host Phil McGraw owns Peteski, which filed the copyright infringement suit, Peteski Productions Inc. v. Gawker Media LLC, on May 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Texarkana. In its original complaint, Peteski alleged that Gawker posted on its sports blog Deadspin audio-video excerpts of episode No. 2 of Dr. Phil’s exclusive interview with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Tuiasosopo reportedly created a fictitious female persona and had telephone conversations with Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o, which resulted in a high-profile girlfriend hoax. The interview aired in two episodes on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. [See "Chip Babcock Represents Dr. Phil in Copyright Infringement Suit," Texas Lawyer, May 13, 2013, page 6.]

According to Peteski’s complaint, the first episode “ended with the possibility that Tuiasosopo might ‘do the voice’ the following day” on Dr. Phil’s show.

Peteski alleged in its complaint that Deadspin recapped portions of episode No. 1 of the Tuisosopo interview on Jan. 31 and posted video of episode No. 2 on the blog during the early morning hours of Feb. 1, “hours before the Dr. Phil Show aired to 98 percent of its audience.”

As further alleged in Peteski’s complaint, the Feb. 1 show had been expected to have higher ratings than the Jan. 31 show, but the second show had substantially lower ratings “because the result of the ‘CLIFFHANGER’ was no longer in doubt.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Caroline Craven appointed Ward as mediator in the case. Ward is with Ward & Smith Law Firm in Longview.

Mary Alice Robbins is a freelance reporter and former senior reporter with Texas Lawyer.

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