By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey's company has filed a lawsuit against the creators of the "Oprahdemics" podcast, claiming that the program misleads listeners into thinking she sponsored or approved it.
In a complaint filed late Tuesday in Manhattan federal Court, Winfrey's Harpo Inc said it is neither seeking profits or damages from "Oprahdemics" creators Kellie Carter Jackson and Leah Wright Rigueur, nor trying to stop the podcast.
Instead, it wants a name change, saying the podcast and related live events dilute Harpo's "Oprah" and "O" trademarks, and wrongly capitalize on the goodwill that Winfrey has spent decades building.
Harpo, which is Oprah spelled backward, said simply being associated with the "Oprah" brand often causes an "exponential" jump in sales, known as "The Oprah Effect" or "The O Factor."
The "Oprahdemics" website describes Jackson and Rigueur as historians and friends who break down iconic episodes of Winfrey's talk show and discuss the cultural impact of the "Queen of Talk."
In a statement, co-producer Jody Avirgan, whose company Roulette Productions is also a defendant, called "Oprahdemics" a "journalistic exploration by history professors and sincere, longtime fans of Oprah Winfrey."
He said Roulette "has been engaged with the team at Harpo for some time—while genuinely surprised by this, we hope to resolve it."
In an April interview with NPR, Rigueur called Winfrey an institution.
"This is a woman, a Black woman, who has dominated multiple spaces and arenas" since the 1980s, she said. "I say that in a way that doesn't absolve her of ... constructive criticism or feedback or anything like that, but instead as recognition of ... the institution of Oprah Winfrey and the Oprah Winfrey brand."
Winfrey, 68, is also an actress and philanthropist who parlayed her namesake Chicago television talk show, which ran nationally from 1986 to 2011, into a media and business empire. She is worth $2.5 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
The case is Harpo Inc v Jackson et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 22-06787.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)