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Television show formats and copyright

Written by Owen Ross on 17 July 2012

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The legal protection of television programmes is very complex. The leading case is Green v Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand [1989] RPC 700. Here the court rejected a claim to copyright in the format of a television game show. The show's creator relied on catchphrases used in the show, a clapometer and the use of sponsors to introduce the contestants. It was held that a few distinctive features of a television show could not be isolated from the changing material presented in each separate performance and for those reasons the show could not be identified as an original dramatic work. As no work could be identified with any real certainty there was no copyright protection afforded.

A dramatic work needs sufficient unity to be capable of performance.

Does this mean that it is impossible to protect the format of a television show under copyright law?

Where there is a sufficiently detailed record of the format allowing for a structured and united show a television show is capable of being performed.

Where copyright is afforded a Claimant could find it very difficult to prove a substantial part had been copied.

The protection of television show formats under copyright law in the UK has not been properly tested before the UK courts.
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