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04 September 2008
A Belgian court has once again ruled on television format rights. On February 28 2008 the Brussels Tribunal of First Instance issued a decision denying copyright protection in respect of a programme format and outlining the criteria that mark the dividing line between an unprotected idea and a concrete - and protected - expression thereof.
The plaintiff created a document to be used as the basis of a format for a television programme called Super Champs, in which 10 top athletes from different disciplines compete to be the best all-round athlete.
A broadcaster subsequently aired a programme called Eternal Glory, in which 11 former professional athletes live together in a isolated villa and compete against each other in a number of tests to discover which of them is the most complete athlete.
For each of the first nine episodes the contestants take three tests designed to evaluate one particular characteristic. The lowest-scoring athlete is eliminated unless he or she passes a further test. In the final episode, the three remaining athletes compete against the clock.
The plaintiff was surprised by the format of the television programme because he considered that it contained essential elements of the format that he had created in 2002, even though he had not given permission for it to be used.
The court held that, even assuming the plaintiff's idea to be original, its description in the document was insufficient to express its creator's personality and the intellectual effort he claimed to have invested in it.
The document merely enumerated a number of ideas and games, none of which was developed concretely and graphically. Without sufficient concrete elements, it could not be considered a copyright-protected format.
The court found that it was impossible to visualize an episode on the basis of the document. For example, the document did not specify whether it related to a single episode or a series. If the latter, it was unclear:
Moreover, the document did not:
The court concluded that the document was a vague description of a few ideas which could be used as a basis for numerous different television programmes, each with different characteristics.
Although the court did not consider the document to be a protectable television programme format, the analysis in its judgment, which detailed what the plaintiff failed to do, is a valuable guide to drafting a format document that can be protected by copyright.
For further information on this topic please contact Herman Croux at Marx Van Ranst Vermeersch & Partners by telephone (+32 2 285 01 00) or by fax (+32 2 230 33 39) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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