'Wipeout' returns, but copyright lawsuit never left

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'Wipeout' returns, but copyright lawsuit never left

Wed May 27, 2009 @ 03:00PM PST

By Matthew Belloni

Wipeout-ABC The promos for tonight's season premiere of the obstacle course competition "Wipeout" got us wondering about the status of those copyright lawsuits filed in October by Tokyo Broadcasting System against ABC and producer Endemol.

The Japanese broadcaster claims that the hit game show copied elements of its “Takeshi’s Castle,” “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge” and other semi-humiliating competitions that are popular in Asia.

What struck us as interesting about the cases isn't just that TBS is claiming copyright infringement of a reality show (which is notoriously difficult to prove), it's that the broadcaster claims infringement of multiple shows all rolled into one big infringing extravaganza. True, press reports when the show launched immediately picked up on its similarity to a bunch of Japanese contests. But does this give TBS a better or worse chance of winning a lawsuit, given a TV landscape in which most reality shows cut and paste particular elements of other shows?

We don't have an answer to that question yet. We checked in with TBS lead lawyer Larry Stein, who says he's still waiting for a judge's decision on a motion to dismiss the case filed by ABC and Endemol. Interestingly, Stein says the defendants aren't trying to dismiss the copyright claim, just the unfair competition claim.

There are very few strict legal rules governing what reality producers can and can't steal from each other. Is this the case that will clarify the law?

UPDATE: A reader better versed in copyright law than us emails this interesting case:

Wanted you to know that there is at least one reported decision holding that a plaintiff can successfully claim infringement of multiple programs and rolls that into "one big infringing extravaganza." In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. v. American Honda Motor Co., 900 F. Supp. 1287 (C.D. Cal. 1995) the court found that a commercial that incorporated elements of various James Bond films (including several characters from different films, as I recall...though you should double check) constituted copyright infringement. Perhaps the other side was aware of this precedent and therefore did not seek to dismiss the copyright claim.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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