What can reality TV tell us about copyright law?

Can a television show concept be protected under copyright law? Two cooking reality shows go head-to-head in court.

With countless reality shows taking over our televisions, it's hard not to get them confused. Few are as popular with Australians as cooking shows.

However, with more and more dominating our screens, will viewers start to tune out?

This issue is at the core of TV's latest copyright war between popular cooking shows, My Kitchen Rules and The Hotplate.

The case went before the Federal Court of Australia, posing an interesting question regarding the scope of copyright protection for TV content.

Can an idea for a TV show be protected under copyright law in Australia?

Channel Seven, which hosts My Kitchen Rules, has claimed that Nine Network is infringing on its copyright by broadcasting its new reality television cooking program, The Hotplate.

Seven lost its bid for an interlocutory injunction on August 5, however, the court maintained that it had a reasonably arguable case. 

The decision was based upon the serious damage that the Nine Network would suffer if its show, midway through broadcasting, was forced off air.

However, with the court conceding that that format of the two shows was very similar, it is likely that Seven Network will take this to full trial in the future.

Despite conceding that there were similarities, the case was no successful in proving copyright infringement. Despite conceding that there were similarities, Channel Seven was not successful in proving copyright infringement.

Reality show wars 

Nine Network is well aware of the issues that similarities between reality TV shows can cause. It has previously gone to court for claims that its home renovation show, The Block, was a copy of Ninox and Television New Zealand's Dream Home.

Judge Tamberlin decided that the copyright infringement claims were unjustified and was not convinced there was substantial reproduction from the reality show.

The Australian Copyright Council cautions television content producers to keep an eye on the results of this case. This applies not only to cooking shows, but also home renovation, talent shows, singing competitions and others that could be at risk of copyright violation. 

With an overload of reality TV shows, it's hard to argue what sets yours apart from the competition. This is not a new problem, but increasing digitalisation has led to individuals and companies in greater need of safeguarding their intellectual property

Defending your idea against theft

The case also shows entrepreneurs the importance of balance when it comes to business ideas, including a new concept for a reality TV show.

While many innovators want to protect their idea from theft, they also want to gain the attention of potential investors.

If your business idea has not been properly protected, it can be difficult to argue that your copyright has been infringed upon. This especially true for a concept, as an idea on its own cannot be protected by copyright law. 

Trademarks can give you further rights to your innovation and help sell an expression of an idea, with less concern of someone ripping it off.

They allow you limited rights to a slogan, phrase, logo, name or sound, and once registered, can give your business more rights, reducing the likelihood of your idea being stolen and re-purposed. 

To ensure that you have right professional advice throughout the trademark registration process, contact the team at Alder IP.