August 16, 2012

Jenner & Block Partner Andrew J. Thomas and Associate Farnaz M. Alemi wrote “Expression is the name of the game in reality TV,” which was published as the August 2012 “Content Matters” column in the Los Angeles Daily Journal and San Francisco Daily Journal.  In the article, Mr. Thomas and Ms. Alemi discuss California and New York court decisions denying copyright protection to unscripted reality shows, where the infringement claims were based on elements such as basic format and plot ideas, setting, contest rules, and techniques and processes.  The authors focus on a recent ruling in CBS Broadcasting v. American Broadcasting Companies, in which CBS sought to prevent ABC from airing its new reality series “Glass House,” claiming it mimicked the structure and style of the CBS show “Big Brother.”  The Central District of California rejected CBS’s bid for a temporary restraining order, stating that, in order for CBS to ultimately prevail on its infringement claim, it would have to prove that ABC copied more than generic ideas, which are unprotectable.  The authors conclude that these decisions signal that “it may well be impossible to prevail on a copyright infringement theory” grounded in similarities between these types of concepts.  Further, they suggest that these reality show decisions “also are likely to inform how courts analyze copyright claims based on similarities in the concepts, settings and rules of play of videogames – particularly games that do not have consistent plots or fully delineated characters.”