A Litigious Week for Magazines Big and Small
Us Weekly this week was slapped with a $55 million lawsuit from a former editor who claims the magazine damaged her career when its staff allegedly accused her of stealing information about celebrities. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court Monday, is the latest example in recent weeks of magazines facing legal action.
The grievance against Us Weekly—filed by former West Coast news editor Jill Ishkanian—alleges that the defendants intentionally tried to destroy Ishkanian’s professional reputation by telling the FBI last year that after leaving the magazine she hacked into the computers and stole information about celebrities and a number of photographs. Federal agents later raided Ishkanian’s home and her business—the Sunset Photo Agency—detained her and confiscated her computer equipment, the suit says. Us Weekly West Coast editor Ken Baker, editor-in-chief Janice Min and Jann Wenner, owner of Wenner Media, were named as defendants.
“The lifeblood of any news publication and any reporter’s work is the ability to gather information through the use of confidential sources,” Ishkanian’s attorney, Nicholas Tepper, tells Folio: Alert. “If those sources believe the reporter’s notebooks and computers are going to be seized by the FBI because they have been seized before, as in this case, then those confidential sources are going to be very, very reluctant to provide that publication or that reporter with information.”
Ishkanian left the magazine in 2005 to launch the photo agency, which competes with the magazine. An Us Weekly spokesperson declined to comment, other than to say "the lawsuit has no merit.”
The next step in the legal process is to serve the individual defendants, says Tepper. He expects this suit to go to trial sometime in the next 12 to 24 months.
Early last week, Time magazine was ordered by Indonesia’s highest court to pay $106 million to controversial former Indonesian dictator Suharto for a May 1999 cover story, “The Family Firm,” that alleges his family amassed billions of dollars during his rule. Suharto reportedly filed a lawsuit against Time in the Central District Jakarta court, and later the Jakarta High Court. Both courts ruled in Time’s favor, but a panel of three Supreme Court judges overturned the decisions on Aug. 31. Time Inc. Asia and six employees were ordered also to issue an apology. Although the court is Indonesia’s highest, Time can appeal the decision.
At a news conference about the ruling, a Time lawyer said the magazine would “use any means available to challenge the decision.” Time spokesperson Daniel Kile declined to comment, telling Folio: Alert that as of Wednesday, the magazine had not yet been notified about the ruling and has not yet filed an appeal.
Smaller magazines are not immune to legal battles, though often do not have the resources to fight drawn-out lawsuits. Atlanta-based Business to Business magazine recently dropped its lawsuit against June start-up Atlanta Business. Trans World Publishing, which recently acquired Business to Business, had taken issue with the competition’s name, which is identical to a section within its magazine. According to a statement from Trans World’s lawyers, the case “had developed into an unnecessarily complex dispute that would take a long time to resolve and would be expensive.”