Hilversum, Netherlands-based TV company Endemol has won a milestone court case that could help owners of reality formats around the world protect their TV properties from unauthorized knock-offs.
Judge Paulo Campos Filho ruled June 16 that Casa dos Artistas – an unscripted reality format transmitted by Osasco, Brazil-based broadcaster Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão (SBT) – infringed the rights of Big Brother Brazil, a regional version of Endemol’s successful Big Brother format licensed by Rio de Janeiro-based broadcaster Globo International. Endemol and Globo had filed the suit against sbt shortly after Casa hit the airwaves in fall 2001. Although Big Brother Brazil had not yet been launched (it was first televised in 2002), the Dutch company claimed SBT was illegally copying its intellectual property.
The judge agreed. In his decision, he declared that SBT had overstepped the boundaries of fair competition. He also provided a legal definition of a format, labeling it ‘a structured and detailed expression of a specific idea,’ and acknowledged an owner’s entitlement to copyright-protect it. SBT was ordered to pay Endemol and Globo together approximately 8.25 million reais (US$3 million), and a further penalty of 500,000 reais ($175,000) per episode if Casa dos Artistas is transmitted again. SBT told RealScreen it plans to launch an appeal.
‘The decision is a precedent – it means a lot,’ says Christoph Fey, a solicitor specializing in copyright law and the managing director of the Cologne, Germany-based Format Recognition and Protection Association (FRAPA), an industry group that helps mediate format disputes. Producers around the world now have a legal determination with which they can assert ownership of a format, he explains, which boosts their footing in license-fee negotiations and in fending off improper imitations. Fey believes the repercussions of the Brazilian decision will be particularly strong in Latin America, where legal systems are similar from country to country and up to now producers have boldly imitated each other’s work. ‘It will have an immediate impact,’ he says.
Jonni Abbenhuis, an Endemol spokesperson, says the company hopes the ruling will lead to industry reform. ‘Format owners will be stimulated to take action against parties who take advantage of their formats, because they now know it can succeed.’