A Manhattan man says American Eagle Outfitters and Clear Channel ripped off his idea for a “15 Seconds of Fame” billboard in Times Square. In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Jet Thomason says American Eagle announced its interactive billboard deal with business partners including Clear Channel soon after he’d met with CC Outdoor about the very same idea.
“While the defendants say it’s pure coincidence, I don’t believe in coincidences,” Thomason’s lawyer, Richard Roth, told The NY Post. “Something smells in Times Square.”
The suit seeks $1 million from American Eagle and $1 million from Clear Channel.
Thomason, 32, a singer and actor, said he first came up with the idea of a billboard where people could post brief messages in 2003, before electronic billboards were prevalent. A 2009 walk around Times Square then rekindled the idea: “I was looking at all the tourists and thought what a great dream of theirs it would be to visit the greatest city in the world and have their faces up in the middle of Times Square,” he told the paper.
He then set up a company called “15 Seconds of Fame” (from Andy Warhol’s famous line), came up with a business plan, which he presented to Clear Channel Outdoor in July 2009, after the company signed an NDA.
“The concept of 15 Seconds is to allow virtually anyone to feature themselves on a digital billboard in Times Square for 15 seconds,” the suit says.
Thomason even picked out what he though was the perfect spot, at 47th and Broadway.
The Clear Channel exec later e-mailed Thomason, “Love the ‘15 Seconds of Fame’ concept and hope we can make this happen,” the suit says. Thomason told him he was working on securing funding for the rental in August — so he was shocked when American Eagle announced that November that it was turning its billboard on the same block “into a ‘15 Seconds of Fame’ billboard.”
See it here:
The suit says the similarities between the billboard and Thomason’s plan “are startling,” and “strong evidence” that American Eagle and Times Square billboard consortium partner Clear Channel were in cahoots.
It also notes that American Eagle announced the interactive billboard — which is available to people who buy goods at their flagship store on Broadway — at a time when Clear Channel was still bound by the confidentiality agreement with Thomason.
RBR-TVBR observation: It’s likely that there are some differences in the technology of Thomason’s idea and what’s up there in Times Square. I.e. if his idea was on uploading photos to a nearby cell tower to the billboard, that would not be the same as going into a store by the billboard and having your picture taken and placed up on the big screen. This is, unfortunately, how many ideas are copied in business and technology. But let’s face it—it’s a good idea and if Thomason wins the case, he may just own the idea.