The Contentious Issue Of IP Copyright


MIPCOM, CANNES: The issue of copyright is a contentious often controversial one, said Jonathan Coad, co-founder of International Format Lawyers Association [ILFA], a global network practising specialist media and entertainment law.

Basically, “there is precious little by law saying that TV formats are protected as there is no statutory recognition yet of format rights anywhere in the world.’

This dramatic opening statement soon gave way to insight into this murky grey area in the television world that affects all content creators/owners. In the past twenty years various cases across the globe have provided case law serving as precedent.

Coad insisted that formats are a valuable commodity in a multibillion dollar industry, where “formats are the result of the work and investment by their creators who should be enabled to make a commercial return.’

The overriding fact is that there is no copyright in an idea whatsoever. Historically if there was no script there was no copyright. Endemol won a case in Brazil where a derivative of the Big Brother format was passed off as an original property of the said production company. The format was so unique and abided by the international code of television copyright where “copyright does not protect ideas, only how they are expressed’.

However growth or creative license is allowed as generic formats surrounding dating, desert islands or makeover shows cannot be protected. US Judge Loretta Preska, succinctly summed it up in the CBS versus ABC case surrounding, I’m a Celebrity …Get Me Out of Here! concluding that this was not the Survivor format, albeit with celebrities, fore: “Evolution of TV shows …is a continuous involving process, borrowing liberally form what has gone before.’

Furthermore financial remuneration must take place should the originator volunteer to cede ownership. This is a extremely rare occurrence as there is value in the retention of IP, but various unscrupulous broadcasters around the world have demanded IP copyright which if brought before a court of law would be deemed coercive and illegally bad practice.

  • More editorial coverage on this MIPCOM conference session will appear in the Nov/Dec issue of Screen Africa.


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