PROJECT RUNWAY: The second season of “Project Runway” gets under way tonight, but it almost didn’t. On Tuesday, a U.S. District Court judge for the southern district of New York denied an application for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented the show from airing. The application was filed by Cynthia Rodriguez and Elizabeth Marie Anne Zwiebach, who claim they hatched the idea in February 2003 and pitched it to agents representing Heidi Klum in July of that year — three months before Klum and Miramax Pictures announced their plans to create a reality series for the Bravo Network. Rodriguez, who is the designer of a clothing line called Color Code, and Zwiebach, who is a fashion merchandiser, say the show they pitched, called “American Runway,” was similar, in both broad outline and many particulars, to “Project Runway.” They also note that they copyrighted their 40-page treatment for the show and registered it with the Writers Guild of America in March 2003. “What we’re hoping to get out of this is the recognition that this is our copyrighted property, and also some kind of monetary compensation,” Rodriguez said.
She and Zwiebach made their claims known to the creators of “Project Runway” earlier this year, and in October they flew out to Los Angeles to meet with lawyers for Miramax and Disney. When that meeting failed to yield an agreement, Rodriguez and Zwiebach decided to go to court. “We finally got to the point where we said, ‘Enough is enough — they’re making money on our concept,'” said Rodriguez. At Tuesday’s hearing, according to Rodriguez, the judge declined to block the show from airing in light of the large amount of advertising Bravo already had sold around the show, but agreed to hold a conference between attorneys for both sides. That meeting is scheduled for today.
Rodriguez sounded open to compromise. “It’s really the principle of the darn thing that’s upsetting me more,” she said. “I don’t know what the purpose of copyright is if you have to go through all this.” Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Miramax said of the dispute: “We generally don’t comment on pending litigation, but we’re confident there is no merit to this claim.”
— Jeff Bercovici
This story first appeared in the December 7, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
EX OFFICIO: The Source is homeless. The ailing hip-hop magazine has vacated its offices on 23rd Street in the face of eviction proceedings by its landlord. According to a former staffer, employees of The Source have been instructed to work from home until the company can move into new offices on lower Broadway. It was unclear whether a deal had been reached for the new space; Dave Mays, The Source’s chief executive officer, did not respond to a request for comment.
In another court fight, The Source’s principal backer, Textron Financial Corp., has been trying to wrest control of the magazine from Mays and his partner, rapper Ray “Benzino” Scott. For the moment, at least, they retain control and are continuing to produce a magazine. Insiders are bracing for a possible outcry when the January/February issue hits newsstands. On the cover, according to the former staffer, are Mays and Scott.