Stealing UFC pay-per-view content isn’t the only way to send Zuffa’s legal sharks into a feeding frenzy. Stealing “trade secrets” will do the trick too.
In a report on Yahoo! Sports, Kevin Iole broke the news that Zuffa has filed suit against MMA agent Ken Pavia and Bellator Fight Championships. Zuffa alleges that Pavia delivered confidential UFC documents to Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney at his request, who in turn intended to have them altered for Bellator use.
An email which Zuffa’s lawsuit alleges is from Rebney to Pavia on July 4 was attached as an exhibit to the 16-page suit. In it, Rebney writes, ” … You’ve been great about sending us ‘All’ of the seminal docs from the UFC, so that we can re-do them and implement them for Bellator.”
Later, the email Zuffa alleges to have been written by Rebney continues, “Please list each in terms of what it is for and how the UFC uses them/implements them. … Then I’m going to have our team Monday re-type them and we will sufficiently alter them such that they will appear to be ours and not theirs.”
The response that is purported to have come from Pavia is brief and says, in its entirety, “Still I (sic) vegas. May take 24 hours to organize as some forms go to the guys in my office.”
Pavia was in Las Vegas for UFC 116 on July 3 and the alleged email is dated July 4. The email addresses that are in the emails Zuffa included are the email addresses for Rebney and Pavia.
According to the report, Zuffa is seeking “actual and punitive damages” from Pavia and Bellator and a permanent injunction that would prevent them from using the documents they obtained.
Assuming the email noted in the suit is legit, it certainly sounds like Pavia and Rebney have been caught red-handed, but still, there’s always two sides to every story. Pavia isn’t saying much, but he does claim there are facts that haven’t come to light yet. I’m assuming he means facts that would clear him of any wrongdoing, but until that information comes out, we have no way of knowing. As WKR points out though, the real juicy question is how a highly sensitive email like this one made it’s way into Zuffa’s hands to begin with. Chew on that one for awhile.
Image via CombatLifestyle.com
Update: Kevin Iole has updated his story with quotes from Bellator attorney Patrick English. English admits Ken Pavia sent over documents to Bjorn Rebney, but says they’re of such little importance, it really shouldn’t matter.
“I’ve looked at the paperwork, and I understand what’s going on here, and it is literally much ado about very little,” English said.
“There were documents sent by Mr. Pavia to Bellator, but they are not of a competitive nature and they would give no advantage or disadvantage to the viewer. The bulk of them in no way, shape or form would be considered confidential and are not what I consider to be documents that Zuffa should be concerned about.
“I did attempt to reach out to Zuffa [Thursday] and, unfortunately, have not gotten a return call. It happens that Bellator has not used any of the documents in any case.”
English said Rebney’s email “was phrased in an unfortunate way.”
Something tells me Zuffa is going to think otherwise. Fight Opinion’s Zach Arnold believes there’s another wrinkle in the story to consider.
Bellator is the defendant that will get a lot of attention, but Ken Pavia is the real target here. As we’ve seen with the Jason Genet case (where he paid a settlement to the SEC), there is going to be much more scrutiny on agents in MMA who portray themselves as powerful. One thing we know about UFC and Dana White, in particular, is that they don’t like dealing with many of the agents in the business. By going after Pavia, they are laying down a marker to all agents who do business with them. By having that message come out through Kevin Iole and Yahoo, it becomes a crystal clear public message — don’t screw with us.
If we know anything about Zuffa, we know they don’t have any problem whatsoever making an example out of somebody.
Update 2: Bellator attorney Patrick English elaborated on his initial comments in a conversation with MMA Junkie. It’s important to note that Zuffa admits in the lawsuit that they can’t be sure which documents Pavia gave Bellator, but they believe said documents contain confidential and proprietary information. However, English contends the documents in question didn’t contain anything Zuffa would be concerned about and that’s why he believes he can smooth everything over with a phone call.
“They weren’t, per se, confidential UFC documents that were being talked about,” English said. “It was very simple. Bellator was interested in checking on forms that the UFC typically uses in order to see if it was missing anything in terms of its own forms. The types of forms that we’re talking about, by and large – there’s a form that the UFC uses making sure that the fighters don’t use the same colored trunks. There’s forms that notify them that they’re not supposed to have sponsorship stuff on their attire. There was a form that dealt with termination of contracts. Those are not confidential documents, and the bulk of what we’re talking about is that.
“We’re not talking about proprietary information, meaning information that would include things like confidential financial information or anything like that.”
“The bottom line is this: Despite a rather inflammatory email that Bjorn sent out, Bellator has not received – in the bulk of what Ken Pavia sent – confidential information,” English said. “I can understand why the UFC would be upset given the email, but I reached out for them to explain exactly what Bellator did receive, and I would hope they’ll understand once they understand exactly what was transmitted and why.
“Bellator hasn’t actually used anything it was sent. In fairness to the UFC, they don’t know that. I’m willing to share with them exactly what that is, and I think that will allay their concerns at the end of the day.”
Whether English is telling the truth or not, it doesn’t sound like Zuffa is just going to take his word for it. Dana White and co. hired Donald Campbell and Colby Williams, the same attorneys that handled their most recent disputes with Randy Couture and Ken Shamrock, to handle the lawsuit, and told them “to leave no stone unturned.”
“(The suit) involves, at its essence, a theft, under the law, of information that is not entitled to be shared or used and abused,” Campbell said. “We haven’t invented the wheel here – these are well recognized causes of action, and that’s why the courts have provided the significant remedies they have to address them.”
Though Campbell would not put a dollar amount on the damages Zuffa is seeking, he said because of the “highly confidential” nature of the documents allegedly exchanged, Zuffa will “seek the highest extent of damages allowed.”
He also said UFC president Dana White and UFC legal counsel Lawrence Epstein told him “to leave no stone unturned.”
“The conduct alleged is egregious, it’s outrageous and we intend to address it with every legal vehicle at our disposal,” Campbell said. “What’s involved is the most sensitive and propietary information that has been essentially bought and sold on the marketplace in violation of multiple statutes.”
One way or another, this looks like it’s going to be a costly endeavour for both Ken Pavia and Bellator FC.