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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Man Sues for His 15 Seconds of Fame

MANHATTAN (CN) - A New Yorker claims Clear Channel and American Eagle clothing swiped his plans for a digital billboard in Times Square in which people could broadcast their face or message to get the "15 seconds of fame" promised them by Andy Warhol.

Jet Thomason says he created the company 15 Seconds of Fame in May 2009, inspired by Warhol's dictum, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Thomason claims he shared the idea with Peter Keena of Billboard Connection, who referred him to two Clear Channel employees. One of those employees, who are not named as defendants, was account executive Joel Orgel.

Thomason says he made Orgel sign a confidentiality agreement before telling him his idea, in a July 13, 2009 meeting.

The complaint states: "After the Agreement was executed by Orgel, as an agent and representative of Clear Channel, Mr. Thomason disclosed his 15 Seconds concept which would allow virtually anyone to feature themselves on a digital billboard in Times Square for fifteen seconds. Mr. Thomason spoke at length about the objectives and details of his idea. Specifically, Mr. Thomason, with a written business plan in front of him, went through all aspects of his business. He described 15 Seconds as being 'primarily aimed at the thousands of tourists who flock to NYC every day' and 'for those living in NYC and its surrounding boroughs. ... Our pitch is a simple one: What would you do with your 15 seconds of fame? ... This is your opportunity to take advantage of today's modern digital age.' Mr. Thomason elaborated, 'One of the more fulfilling aspects of our company is in allowing the consumer to witness the airing of his video in front of thousands of people.' Mr. Thomason reiterated the objective: 'To be at the forefront of high-end, short-term exposure for the general public on a massive scale in Times Square, New York City - a tourist's dream come true.' Mr. Thomason described Times Square as being the center of the universe, a 'mecca' for tourists.

"At the meeting, Mr. Thomason explained to Orgel that '[a]s of right now, there is no known competitor. ... To date, there is no known history of this venture as it is described in this proposal.

"Orgel, who was intrigued with the business proposal, replied that he liked both the concept and the name. Orgel made it very clear that he was extremely interested in the venture and even discussed how to market the concept. Orgel informed Mr. Thomason that he had heard of a similar concept before, but never as '15 Seconds of Fame.'"

Thomason claims they discussed marketing language during the meeting, and financial projections. He estimated the monthly billboard rent at $48,500, and says he "explained to Orgel to a reasonable certainty ... the profits of the venture."

Later that same day, Thomason says, Orgel emailed him a message: "'Love the "15 Seconds of Fame" concept and hope we can make this happen.'"

In August 2009, Thomason says, he emailed Orgel to tell him that his company, 15 Seconds, had shifted its focus to corporate marketing, and probably would not be able to get billboard space for October.

Also in August 2009, Thomason says, the Times Square Advertising Coalition was formed, with Clear Channel as a member.

Then, according to the complaint: "On or about September 23, 2009, Clear Channel announced a consortium with four other companies that operate the largest digital billboards in Times Square to make them available to advertisers in a coordinated fashion. Clear Channel is offering the digital screen at 47th Street and Broadway, the screen that was the subject of the Mr. Thomason's [sic] inquiry, as part of the consortium. The consortium is called Times Square Domination.

"In or about the beginning of 2010, it was announced that the Clear Channel billboard that is part of the Times Square Domination ad-sales would provide programming in short segments, with audio as well as video, in regularly-scheduled slots like a television network. It was also announced that some programming could be interactive to involve pedestrians who walk through Times Square.

"Notwithstanding the Agreement, on or about November 3, 2009, less than 120 days after the Agreement was executed, American Eagle announced plans to turn its 25-story electronic billboard above its flagship store, located at 1551-1555 Broadway,

New York, New York 10036, into a '15 Seconds of Fame' billboard.

"The similarities of the American Eagle Billboard and Mr. Thomason's plan are startling, and emails between Mr. Thomason and Orgel, as an agent of Clear Channel, along with common sense, are strong evidence of the malicious and injurious actions of Clear Channel and American Eagle."

Thomason seeks an accounting and no less than $1 million from Clear Channel and American Eagle, for breach of contract and tortious interference.

He is represented in New York County Court by Richard A. Roth.

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