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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2010 @ 1:33am

    "...I'm sort of surprised they would do this, seeing as they must have known what would happen ... Christopher Cardillo insisted it was his idea that was being taken unfairly. So he sued ... Of course, you can't copyright ideas ... so there was no copyright claim."

    So you are surprised that companies who understand copyright would do something that doesn't present any copyright problems ? or are you advocating that people should avoid doing things that are perfectly OK just to avoid frivolous law suites ? !! is techdirt loosing it's plot ?

     

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      Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 7th, 2010 @ 2:04am

      Re:

      So you are surprised that companies who understand copyright would do something that doesn't present any copyright problems ? or are you advocating that people should avoid doing things that are perfectly OK just to avoid frivolous law suites ? !! is techdirt loosing it's plot ?

      In the same way that many movie studios won't accept scripts over the transom, knowing they might get sued if they later make a similar movie, I would assume the same thing applies for TV studios. They would not ask for ideas, knowing damn well that they would likely get sued later if they used an idea without crediting who submitted it -- even if they came up with it entirely independently.

       

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    Lachlan Hunt (profile), Oct 7th, 2010 @ 2:04am

    Having a website up asking for ideas is not a bad thing. It's a great way to get feedback from their viewers. But normally with this type of thing, they have terms and conditions that clearly state that by submitting your idea to them, they have the right to use it. It's pretty stupid submitting an idea to them, thus granting them permission to use the idea (not that permission is really needed anyway), and then suing them over it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2010 @ 2:08am

    There was a similar case in Australia a few years ago. Some of the tabloid garbage TV shows have "Submit a story idea", some guy did and they did a story on it. The guy wanted to be paid as a consultant and sued when he didn't. It was tossed out on the first day of the court, and the man was ordered to pay court costs.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2010 @ 2:10am

    That guy has a lot of bad ideas. First he has a crap idea about a crap show, then he has another crap idea about crap lawsuit. I think we should all sue that guy and demand to stop him have ideas.

     

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    Daddy Warbucks, Oct 7th, 2010 @ 2:46am

    Moma says what..??

    "plaintiffs' failure to register their idea is fatal to their copyright claim."

    20 years ago, this sentence wouldn’t have even been an afterthought, let alone noted by the court. To even suggest that registering "their idea" should play a part in the ruling indicates how the moneyed influence is shaping the court's "ideas"¯.

    I can only imagine this is how corporations, ah, I mean "artificial persons" finally gained their current status as "incorporated" people.

     

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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Oct 7th, 2010 @ 2:57am

    This surprises me too

    "the court notes "plaintiffs' failure to register their idea is fatal to their copyright claim."
    I know, an idea isn't copyrightable. But apart from that, so, because something wasn't registered as copyright, it was fatal to the claim?
    Could we use this defense in other cases too?
    "Because {artist} did not register their copyright, their claim that I violated their copyright is therefore void"?

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2010 @ 8:56am

      Re: This surprises me too

      Er, yes, but only if the copyright isn't registered. If they're under the RIAA, you can guarantee that it is registered.

       

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      Avatar28 (profile), Oct 7th, 2010 @ 7:35pm

      Re: This surprises me too

      I might be misunderstanding but I believe that if your copyright is not registered, you lose the ability to sue over it (at least for monetary damages).

       

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    Etch, Oct 7th, 2010 @ 4:29am

    Ridiculous!

    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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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2010 @ 5:46am

    i think that the reasons for dismissing the claims might be more akin to the court basically finding the first thing wrong with a frivolous claim and running with it. why expend more energy in explaining Everything that's wrong with it?

     

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    master, Oct 23rd, 2010 @ 3:42pm

    travel

    Mainly in those countries where traveling would be adventurous like in Nepal. This will be helpful who wants to have a wonderful vacation the.... Erken Rezervasyon Tabela

     

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    TV, Jan 30th, 2011 @ 7:21am

    in this case, how could an artist defend his idea (regarding a tv show for example)and register his copyright?

     

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