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BBC Success in TV Format Infringement Claim

Written by Ben Evans on 09 September 2010

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After an unsuccessful case in the High Court last week the BBC have at least been successful in a case this week. Robert Meakin brought a claim for copyright infringement against the BBC on the basis that the BBC alledgedly copied his idea for a game-show.

Back in 2002 Mr Meakin sent his idea for a gameshow, Cash Call Challenge...Live! to both the BBC and also to production company Celador. Later on the BBC broadcast a programme entitled 'Come And Have A Go If You Think You Are Smart Enough', hosted by Nicky Campbell anbd later on Julian Clary.

Mr Meakin claimed that the BBC programme was based on his idea and infringed the copyright in his proposal. Unfortunately for Mr Meakin the Judge, Mr Justice Arnold stated that: "Mr. Meakin's claims are simply unreal...The defendants say that Mr. Meakin's case amounts to a series of conspiracy theories. I have to say that I agree with that assessment,"

"So far as the comparison between [Meakin's proposal] CML3 and CHG is concerned, it is very difficult to see that there is much similarity here at all even if one reads into the description of CHG as being implicit reference to use of a telephone," said Mr Justice Arnold. "Between CCL and CHG, one has simply the general similarity of interactivity linking the viewers with the studio audience. To the extent that they exist, the similarities are extremely general, and in my view they do not give rise to any inference of copying."

"I have considered all of the similarities that are relied upon by Mr. Meakin in each of his documents...In my judgment, the defendants are entirely correct to say that such similarities as exist between Mr. Meakin's proposals on the one hand and CHG on the other hand are no more than very general similarities at a high level of abstraction."

TV format cases are notoriously difficult to bring, Meakin accepted that no copying of the text of his proposal had occurred but rather the idea behind the proposal had been copied. Mr Justice Arnold reaffirmed previous case law and stated that such uses could represent copyright infringement but not in this case:

"It is not necessary for text to be copied in order for a claim for infringement of literary copyright to succeed...I also bear in mind that there is a line of cases which supports the proposition that it can be an infringement of copyright in a novel or play to copy the plot of the novel or play even if the language of the novel or play is not reproduced...Even so, in my judgment the similarities between his three proposals and CHG on which Mr. Meakin relies amount to no more than general ideas at a fairly high level of abstraction and, moreover, commonplace ideas in the field of television game show formats at that," he said. "In my view, Mr. Meakin has no real prospect of success in establishing that a substantial part of the expression of any of Mr. Meakin's proposals has been taken."

There are also potential claims for breaches of confidential information, Mr Meakin has suggested that he will bring further claims against the BBC.

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