Intellectual Property Attorney

CBS Throws Stones at ABC’s ‘Glass House’ — Rival TV Networks Are At War Over ABC’S Planned Reality Series.

Earlier this month, The Hollywood Reporter reported that CBS filed a lawsuit against ABC and certain related entities and individuals claiming that ABC’s reality show
Life in a Glass House is an unlawful copy of CBS’s hit reality show
Big Brother. The
complaint alleges that
Life in a Glass House is a “carbon copy” of
Big Brother and claims that ABC “had a troubling degree of access to CBS’s copyrightable expression, as well as to CBS’s protected
trade secrets and other confidential and proprietary information related to the behind-the-scenes development, filming, and production of
Big Brother.” CBS alleges that “Glass House‘s most senior positions and most critical functions are being staffed by former producers and staff of
Big Brother” including “at least 19 former [Big Brother] producers.” CBS claims the “individuals — at the encouragement of ABC and its affiliates–are actively disclosing CBS’s trade secrets and confidential information to ABC and its affiliates in violation of broad and binding non-disclosure agreements they signed in connection with their work on
Big Brother.” The complaint raises several causes of action, including,
copyright infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets, and unfair competition under California Business and Professions Code Sec. 17200.

As reported today by The Hollywood Reporter, the case has been heating up. On May 14 CBS filed an ex parte application seeking “limited discovery on an expedited basis in order to learn the nature and extent of ongoing infringement of CBS’s copyright interests and theft of CBS’s trade secrets and other confidential information…..” CBS claims to be making the application “for an imminent request for a preliminary injunction,” although it does not state when such injunctive relief would be requested. In a filing on May 21, ABC stated that CBS’s trade secret claims are groundless and that specific items CBS claims are “trade secrets” are “generally understood principles related to reality show production and/or information about Big Brother that is readily apparent from watching the television show, taking a behind the scenes tour, or reading about the show on the internet.”

What do you think? Is any element of a reality show protected by copyright? We’ll continue to watch the case unfold but it appears CBS has an uphill battle — at least on the copyright claims. Claims that certain individuals may have breached non-disclosure agreements and other causes of action may have more teeth. We’ll keep a close eye on this case and update the Grimes blog.

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