Arianna Huffington Gets Winklevii’d

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Photo: Jed Egan, PatrickMcMullan.com, Columbia Pictures

Last November, Huffington Post co-founders Arianna Huffington and Ken Lerer were served with a lawsuit by HuffPo collaborators James Boyce and Peter Daou, who claimed to also share responsibility for the popular news and aggregation site. At the time, Huffington called the charge "ridiculous" and said she was left "speechless." Now Vanity Fair has delved into the background of the issue and finds that ... she's kind of right. Daou and Boyce say that they had the idea for the Huffington Post (which they were going to call 1460, the exact number of days between presidential elections) and that they pitched it to Huffington in depth on December 4, 2004, the day after Huffington held a high-profile summit of celebrities and liberal thinkers to mull over Kerry's loss in the 2004 election.

From Vanity Fair:

The next morning, December 4, Huffington, Lerer, Daou, and Boyce met for breakfast at Huffington’s house and “confirmed in detail,” according to the complaint, “Peter’s and James’ concrete ideas and plans for the proposed website. They agreed that the website should highlight Huffington’s personality more effectively than her then-existing website at ‘ariannaonline.com.’” They spoke about getting “scoops” and “exclusives” from their contacts in the media and the Democratic Party and recommended that “luminaries and public figures should be invited to blog on the planned liberal website.” ...

According to the complaint, as the breakfast meeting broke up, they “all shook hands,” and Huffington said, “It will be great to work together.” After the December 4 meeting, “Peter and James believed they were partners with Huffington and Lerer in a joint venture to develop the website.” ...

[In December], according to the complaint, Huffington and Lerer asked Daou and Boyce to provide “a refined blueprint and strategic plan for the Huffington Post” and “to begin constructing the site.” ...

Three days later, Huffington told Boyce that Lerer would fund the site for six months based on the budget and the strategic plan that Boyce and Daou were working on—and which they provided to Huffington on December 22, including an estimate that to run the site for six months would cost between $200,000 and $270,000.

Okay, so there's a bit of compelling evidence. But it comes down to the fact that Boyce and Daou's "blueprint" for the website was extremely vague and based on ideas that were already very common on the Internet. And it's pretty hard to argue with Huffington Post spokesman Mario Ruiz's response: "According to Boyce and Daou, six years ago they created the Huffington Post but got cut out of the deal. And then did nothing about it. For six years. Six years! If they really thought they owned part of HuffPost, over the last 72 months wouldn’t they have contacted us to complain? Asked us to credit them somewhere on the site? Demanded to participate in the project? Insisted on getting stock? Something? Anything?! In short, wouldn’t they have acted like owners rather than doing nothing for more than half a decade while the real owners did all the work, invested all the money, and took all the risk?"

Boyce and Daou claim they had business relationships that prevented them from getting in a public fight with Huffington. Also, they claim, they were definitely not inspired to file this lawsuit because they watched the movie The Social Network and David Fincher got a really hot guy to play the Winklevoss twins.

Huffing and Puffing [VF]
Related: 101 Minutes With Arianna Huffington [NYM]