Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
ideas, racketeering, tv shows

bbc, nbc, travel channel

NBC, BBC, Travel Channel: Not Guilty Of Racketeering For Asking People About Ideas For TV Shows

from the ownership-culture dept

When you go around preaching the concept that ideas can be "owned," you're just asking for a lawsuit when you then ask people to voluntarily submit their own ideas. At some point, the Travel Channel put up a website, asking viewers for ideas for new shows. I'm sort of surprised they would do this, seeing as they must have known what would happen next. Some guy submitted an idea that probably a dozen or more people submitted: do a reality show on a family driving around the country in an RV. And, when the Travel Channel, along with NBC and the BBC announced a show called "The Great American Road Trip," the guy Christopher Cardillo insisted it was his idea that was being taken unfairly. So he sued for both copyright infringement and racketeering.

Of course, you can't copyright ideas and Cardillo had never actually registered the copyright on the proposal itself anyway, so there was no copyright claim. And, now the court has also tossed out the ridiculous racketeering charge. The idea that setting up a website to solicit show ideas is akin racketeering seems to be a bigger stretch than even some of the most ridiculous lawsuits we see on a daily basis.
While it's good that the court dismissed this, I'm amazed at a few things. First, on the copyright issue, the court notes "plaintiffs' failure to register their idea is fatal to their copyright claim." But, um, shouldn't the court know that you can't copyright an idea? While it gets the results right, the reasoning is weird.

Similarly, on the racketeering issue, the court spends a lot of time focusing on how there's no pattern of racketeering from a single incident, but it's not clear that there was even a single incident that is in any way illegal. The idea of doing a reality show of people traveling in RVs around the country is hardly unique, and the actual show is quite different than what Cardillo proposed anyway (his involved just his family driving from the US to South America -- the real show involves a bunch of families around the country involved in a contest).

Still, in the end, it's surprising that in a TV industry made up of folks who keep insisting that ideas can be "owned," that anyone would ever bother to put up a website asking for show ideas, and not expect to get sued.

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  1. identicon
    Etch, 7 Oct 2010 @ 4:29am


    Well, let's go back to the ultimate guide for lawsuits:
    The Dictionary!
    Racketeer: someone who commits crimes for profit (especially one who obtains money by fraud or extortion)

    So, did the accuser misunderstand the meaning of racketeer, or did he lose his only dictionary in a poker game?

    This case should have been thrown out immediately after consulting a dictionary. Its sad that some amount of money (as little as it might have been) was spent processing this claim.

    And as for the RV "idea"; this is not new! I've seen this show hundreds of times before! Its available on VHS in living rooms all across America, and Its usually marked: "Home movies of our trip to ..."!
    This "idea" is as old as video cameras themselves.
    I'm pretty sure the guy who created the first camcorder was thinking: "Now we can film our RV trips to Niagara Falls!"

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