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...