High Court confirms TV formats can be protected as dramatic works

Posted: November 23, 2017

The High Court has confirmed that TV formats are arguably capable of being protected as dramatic works, as long as they contain, as a minimum, a sufficient number of distinguishing features connected in a coherent framework that can be repeatedly applied, so as to enable the TV show to be reproduced in recognisable form.  On the facts of this case, the features of the format for the game show Minute Winner, in which members of the public were to be chosen at random and given the chance to win a prize, were found to be commonplace and indistinguishable from the features of many other game shows.  Accordingly, the claim of copyright infringement was dismissed at summary judgment.

Comment

­The decision provides some much needed clarity and guidance on the protection of TV formats under English copyright law. The main significance of this case is the High Court’s acceptance that a format for a TV show is arguably capable of copyright protection as a dramatic work.

In particular, the judge’s summary of the aspects that the format document was lacking to qualify for copyright protection serve as a useful pointer for format creators and owners of the level of detail that should be contained in any format bible. Production companies and format creators should develop as much of their format as possible and set this out in writing in a detailed production bible.

The more detailed a format document is, the more likely it is to attract copyright protection as a dramatic work. This means that format creators should make sure to include the title, any catchphrases to be used, drawings of any visual props, and the running order of the programme, as well as any principal characters and suitable candidates to take part in the show.

Once a detailed format is created, format owners should aim to protect and register their format as far as possible. This may involve registering a copy of the detailed format at the Format Recognition and Protection Association (FRAPA), along with registering any titles, catchphrases and logos as trade marks and registering the relevant domain names.

Jonathan Blair, Partner, and Juliane Althoff, Associate, Simkins LLP

To read the full article, click here.  Written for Entertainment Law Review.