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October 06, 2008

Japanese broadcaster sues ABC over 'Wipeout'

WipeoutLeading Japanese broadcaster Tokyo Broadcasting System has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against ABC, charging that summer hit "Wipeout" is "a blatant copycat" of several of its classic Japanese competition series.

TBS owns the Japanese copyright to the obstacle course series "Takeshi's Castle," co-owns the right to Spike TV's "MXC" (which uses footage from "Castle") and owns the copyright to competition series "Sasuke" (whose dubbed repeats air under the title "Ninja Warrior" on G4).

"From the moment ABC revealed 'Wipeout' to the public, that program has been routinely described as a 'rip-off" and 'knockoff" of Plaintiff's shows," reads the complaint, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
"ABC's willful and wrongful use of Plaintiff's shows to create 'Wipeout' is egregious, inexcusable and not to be tolerated."

Among the charges are that ABC bought search terms such as "MXC" on Google to help drive traffic to the official "Wipeout" page, and that specific obstacles in "Wipeout" were knock-offs of challenges in the Japanese shows.

"'Wipeout' unlawfully appropriates the premise, the format, the sequence of events, the introductory segment, the tone, the scene setups, the narration, the dialogue that arises from constructed situations ... of the shows," the lawsuit reads.

Successful reality series often draw lawsuits from parties alleging the concept was stolen. However, the complaints usually involve producing entities. A major broadcast network suing another over a reality series is extremely rare. In 2002, CBS accused ABC of knocking off "Survivor" with its reality effort "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here," yet a judge ruled in ABC's favor and allowed the show to continue.

Spike TV had earlier issued a press release joking about the shows being alike, though a producer of "MXC" was less amused by the similarity.

Notably missing from the defendant list on TBS' complaint is Endemol USA, the company producing "Wipeout." A separate lawsuit against Endemol is pending, sources said.

In addition to its successful run in the U.S., Endemol is actively selling the show's format around the world, directly competing with the formats for TBS' series.

The suit on behalf of TBS was filed by top litigation attorney Larry Stein, known mostly for his high-profile profit participation cases.

He has filed two major complaints against ABC in the past, one involving the producers of longrunning comedy "Home Improvement" and one involving "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" producer Celador, which is awaiting trial.

In July, ABC Studios was slammed for a leaked memo which has been described as a blueprint for stealing foreign formats (though it should be noted that the letter was from the studio instead of the network, and related to scripted programming instead of reality).

ABC and Stein had no comment.

--Matt Belloni contributed to this report.

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