Can You Copyright The Most Basic Concepts Of Reality TV?

from the apparently-someone-is-trying dept

Remember that old joke about how copyright law is only supposed to protect the specific expression and not the idea? Yeah... that was a good one. It seems that every day we hear yet another story about people and companies trying to claim much more than "the expression" when claiming copyright control over something. Take for example, this threat from CBS against ABC, claiming that ABC's in-production reality show, called Glass House, violates the copyrights CBS holds in its reality show, Big Brother:
CBS is the exclusive U.S. licensee of Big Brother, which it has been broadcasting since 2000. Big Brother is a reality television series in which a group of people live together in a large house, isolated from the outside world. The contestants are filmed continuously. Each cycle of the series begins with 12-14 contestants, and over the course of three months, contestants survive periodic evictions. Through interactive features, viewers are able to have input into aspects of the show, such as challenges in which the participants compete. The last contestant standing wins. Like other valuable creative works, Big Brother is protected by copyright law, and anyon creating substantially similar work without authorization -- as appears to be the case with ABC in this instance -- is liable for copyright infringement.
Reading through that description, it appears to describe the basics of pretty much every reality TV show ever. That is, it's a bunch of basic ideas that are used widely, usually with some variation here and there, but it's a pretty simple -- and totally unprotectable -- formula. Of course, as the article linked above notes, similar lawsuits have ended in settlement, and I wouldn't be surprised to see ABC cave and settle here as well, even if it seems to have a pretty strong case that everything it's doing is perfectly legit. But, really, when's the last time you saw Disney fight against anyone overclaiming copyright? Yeah, it's not likely to start now. So, we're back to telling old jokes...


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 9:21am

    Reality TV is shite anyway so I don't really care.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 9:24am

    Ambivalence...

    So, if CBS wins, then we get fewer reality tv shows; but then there's precedence for abusing copyright...

    Not sure whom to root for on this one.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 9:26am

    Re: Ambivalence...

    It is a conundrum but I am coming out on the side of less reality TV.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 9:36am

    Anyong!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 9:37am

    Re: Re: Ambivalence...

    Ah, but you guys are missing something important:

    If CBS wins, it is a victory for the companies that license their idiotic reality shows around the globe.

    Less reality? You wish. Try more international reality megafranchises pumping out countless test projects in every market to find their next worldwide hit.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re: Ambivalence...

    Nnnnnnnnnooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    Yakko Warner (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 9:45am

    Re: Ambivalence...

    So only the copyright holder will get to make reality TV shows, meaning one source to avoid. (Oh sure, they could license it, but we've already seen how convoluted copyright licensing is, so other players would probably just as soon not bother.)

    This is one time where Life+70 doesn't seem long enough...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 9:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Ambivalence...

    Dittoooo!!!!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Jay, May 7th, 2012 @ 10:02am

    long stretch

    I'm not a lawyer, but this is such a stretch of copyright law, I can't imagine a court listening to this for twelve seconds. Perhaps if CBS had filed for a PATENT on the idea of a reality show, they could claim patent infringement. That seems like a stretch, too, but at least it's not an insane one.

    By the way, I posted a blog entry about ten years about about what I considered irresponsible behavior by a TV network. I believe that gives me a copyright on the idea of writing about TV. You'll be hearing from my lawyers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 10:19am

    While we're at it, why doesn't a TV network file a bunch of lawsuits against other TV networks for violating their copyright on shows about totally dysfunctional families who have crazy adventures in their crazy daily lives?

    Oh, and someone else should sue over all the TV networks who violate the copyright on TV shows about police officers/detectives solving crimes and catching criminals.

    And Cartoon Network should sue everyone else showing cartoon shows for violating their copyright on animated shows about silly/stupid cartoon characters getting into wacky adventures. As well as animated shows about super heroes saving the world each episode from super villains.

    That ought to cover just about everything except sports and the news that's shown on TV.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 10:20am

    "Remember that old joke about how copyright law is only supposed to protect the specific expression..."

    No, actually. "Specific" would certainly apply to the far "expression" end of the spectrum, and "abstract" would certainly apply to the far "idea" end of the spectrum.

    But only the ignorant or those in the straw man industry would claim that only the "specific" is "expression" entitled to protection.

    There is a middle ground that is neither "specific" nor "abstract."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Joe Sixpack 2012, May 7th, 2012 @ 10:22am

    What is the meaning of ...

    "TV" ?

    I saw it mentioned once in a history book.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 10:28am

    Re:

    Oh, and someone else should sue over all the TV networks who violate the copyright on TV shows about police officers/detectives solving crimes and catching criminals.


    If cop dramas and reality TV are both lost, what would they put on TV? That's at least 2/3 of the typical prime time line ups.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 10:47am

    Re: What is the meaning of ...

    It's kinda like Youtube, but instead of you deciding what you get to watch, some executive or focus group gets to decide what you watch.

    It sounds completely crazy to me, too. I still have trouble beleiving it actually made it this far over the last 60+ years.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 10:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Ambivalence...

    Always with the downer comment.
    ( reality sucks... thanks for reminding us )

    shakes head and is scared to dream again


    You couldn't let us fantasize for even a little while... could you ?
    Leigh Beadon you are a Dream Crusher !
    You probably " get off " on it : )
    Goes off to cry about being forever stuck with reality TV





    was I nice thought tho.... eh ?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 11:10am

    Re: long stretch

    > I can't imagine a court listening to this for twelve seconds.

    You obviously don't have very much imagination. It doesn't take much to imagine the court not only listening, but agreeing.


    Oh, wait. You meant a SANE court? Ok, then. I agree with you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    DannyB (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 11:21am

    Shouldn't CBS be using Patent law not Copyright law?

    Shouldn't CBS get a patent on Big Brother?

    After all, if Apple can own rectangles with round corners, then surely CBS should be able to patent Big Brother.

    The patent could have a number of claims -- or they could just be separate patents.

    * Method and system of imprisoning mentally unstable people into closed environment for entertainment

    * Method and system of filming even the most intimate private moments of their lives

    * Method and system of selecting someone to eject at end of each episode

    * Method and system of inducing participants into consuming alcohol

    * Method and system of providing unlimited free alcohol

    * Method and system of irritating and annoying contestants

    * Method and system of furnishing contestants with loaded firearms

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 11:45am

    This is what you get if you lump patent law, copyright law and a whole bunch of other laws together as 'intellectual property laws'.
    People forget what is what and think that copyright is about ideas, pretty soon some may argue that patents should last a lifetim+70 years.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 11:46am

    Re: Shouldn't CBS be using Patent law not Copyright law?

    That'd never fly. You would find infringing:

    * The U.S. prison system

    * The NSA and FBI, as well as the Governor of Virginia

    * Most Japanese game shows

    * College parties

    * GOOD college parties

    * Most American game shows

    * The NRA

    I know you're just being sarcastic, but I wouldn't dare risk pissing off a rowdy, boozed-up college crowd.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 12:01pm

    Copyright is mentioned in the letter as noted above, but the gravamen of the letter is based primarily upon trade secret law and breach of confidentiality agreements by 18 alums of the CBS show who have migrated over to ABC and are purportedly working on the new program.

    Is there a copyright claim here? Quite possibly there is based upon the totality of the various elements making up the CBS program. These elements are certainly much better defined than the mere idea that one locks up a bunch of idiots in a home and kick them out one by one until there is only one idiot left.

    Nevertheless, it is the other legal concerns raised in the letter that appear to have substantially more merit and, potentially, much more in the way of monetary damages.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    baditup (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 12:23pm

    uh... The Real World?!?! MTV?!?! Anyone? Bueller?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    gorehound (profile), May 7th, 2012 @ 12:32pm

    Re:

    +1
    I will never sit thru a reality TV show or even a fake reality TV show.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Amber, May 7th, 2012 @ 12:48pm

    Re:

    You must be their lawyer.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 1:27pm

    Re:

    But it's not just reality tv.

    if some reterded court decides that basic ideas are copyrightable that would have a negetive impact on every area of art & software.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 2:03pm

    Re:

    Pssh..that doesn't make for a very good rabble rousing article, does it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    JEDIDIAH, May 7th, 2012 @ 2:08pm

    TV Source Code?

    It's a TV show. Exactly what kind of "secret sauce" can there be. It's something that's been "out there" for more than 10 years already. Clearly it's already been pulled apart and put back together again several times already.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 2:30pm

    Re: TV Source Code?

    I guess if you can't fathom it, it doesn't exist.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2012 @ 4:16pm

    Re:

    I see your words, but I do not grok your meaning. Could you try that again in English, please?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    TDR, May 7th, 2012 @ 5:43pm

    Re: Re:

    I will never sit thru a reality TV show or even a fake reality TV show.

    There's a difference?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Gleep, May 7th, 2012 @ 11:52pm

    Is reality TV even covered under copyright? I just ask because it occurs to me that reality tv is filming stuff that's actually happening...like the news (as opposed to movie sets, special effects, and actors playing characters). In every other piece of art, the artist has control over aspects of the artwork, like lighting, color composition, story/plot, character direction, etc. But in reality tv, no one knows who's going to do what from one episode to the next or who the winner/losers are going to be (at least in theory) so there doesn't seem to be any creativity put into the show except to "stuff a bunch of idiots into a house and eliminate them". Which doesn't seem like something that can be copyrighted since its an idea and not, in and of itself, an expression.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    icon
    Kevin (profile), May 8th, 2012 @ 7:58am

    Three gongs

    Then the copyright goes to Chuck Barris who, after all, created the first reality competition show, The Dating Game.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2012 @ 8:18am

    Reality is to be covered by copyright?

    They really wish to ensure we are infringing at all times.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 8th, 2012 @ 9:54am

    Re: Re:

    Nobody, except those misrepresenting copyright law, has ever said that copyright protection only applies to "specific" expression, yet that is the basis for Mike's "joke."

    Rather, the "specific" and the "abstract" exist at opposite ends of the idea/expression spectrum. The specific is expression, which can be protected, while the abstract is idea, which cannot. But the dividing line on what can be protected is somewhere in the middle (i.e., covering more than just the "specific", which exists on one end of the spectrum).

    He is misrepresenting what copyright is "supposed" to do, then criticizing it's failure to do so.

    Clear enough?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This