Two alternative weeklies battling for readers and advertisers in Portland are poised to battle each other in court as well.

The new publisher of the Portland Phoenix says its competitor, a new weekly called DigPortland, looks just like the Portland Phoenix. It’s the same size, with the same content, the same ad layout and the same advertisers, said Mark Guerringue, the Phoenix’s publisher.

“It’s a clone,” he said.

Guerringue is accusing two former managers of the Portland Phoenix, who now work for DigPortland, of violating contractual agreements and stealing business information, trade secrets and intellectual property from the Phoenix.

Guerringue’s company, Portland News Club LLC, filed a lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court against Dig Publishing LLC and the two former Phoenix managers. The suit seeks an injunction and an unspecified amount of damages.

Jeff Lawrence, a co-owner of DigPortland, denies that his newspaper is copying the Phoenix or has used confidential business information. He said all of his information about the Phoenix – such as its advertisers – is readily available to anybody who reads the Phoenix, and that it only makes business sense to pursue the same advertisers.


“We do not need to steal anything to launch a publication competing against a free publication already in the market,” he said. “We will fight this tooth and nail, and we will win.”

Both companies are less than a month old.

On Nov. 11, Boston-based Phoenix Media/Communications Group sold the Portland Phoenix to Portland News Club LLC, the parent company of The Portland Sun, a free newspaper that publishes twice a week.

The next day, DigPortland – an offshoot of the alternative paper DigBoston – hired two full-time editorial staff members from the Phoenix, three of five salespeople and more than a dozen contributing writers, according to the lawsuit.

Among those hired by DigPortland were the Phoenix’s former general manager, John Marshall, who had tried and failed to buy the Phoenix, and Marc Shepard, who was general manager of the Phoenix until July 2012.

After he left the Phoenix, Shepard worked for Dig Publishing LLC and later joined with Lawrence to become co-owner and co-publisher of DigPortland. Marshall became an associate publisher of DigPortland. Both are named as defendants in the suit.


The suit claims that Marshall violated a confidentiality agreement he had signed with Phoenix Media/Communications Group, which included the Phoenix’s customer list and financial information while he was a prospective buyer. Marshall also agreed not to be part of any business that would compete against the Phoenix for a year, the suit says.

“A potential buyer signs a non-disclosure agreement that is very, very specific,” Guerringue said. “It says you cannot use information that harms the business you are buying. You can’t direct employees away. You can’t direct business away or steal stuff.”

The suit claims that when Shepard worked for the Phoenix, he had signed an agreement that he would keep business information confidential and would return all company documents to the Phoenix after he departed.

In an email, Shepard said he would not comment. Marshall could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit says that every one of the 35 advertisers in DigPortland’s Nov. 19 inaugural issue is a current or former client of the Phoenix and that 13 of those advertisers diverted all their business to DigPortland.

Even the page dimensions of DigPortland are the same as the Phoenix – 13.25 inches by 10.75 inches, the suit says.

Lawrence said he chose the page size because it’s a standard for tabloids in the industry, but he will change it slightly next month so it’s the same as DigBoston, to make printing both papers easier.

He said the Phoenix’s suit is motivated by spite.

“After 2½ weeks, their business is not doing so well, and our business is doing fantastic,” he said. “It’s the American way. If things don’t go your way, you sue.”

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