Legal background

Television formats are vulnerable to plagiarism, since the people who cause the unauthorized copies to happen (broadcasters) have the power, money and exhibition means to put the plagiarized versions to air. It is believed by some legal people that television formats are not protected by existing copyright legislation. Some judges consider formats to be generic programme ‘ideas’, as opposed to creative works, maintaining that ideas cannot be protected by copyright law. Even in jurisdictions where legislation supports the legal standing of formats, copyright infringement cases fail in many instances.

It is hardly surprising that, in the absence of clear legal guidelines, courts have been reluctant to uphold claims of copyright infringement as applied to television formats. While the format trade is built on the assumption that intellectual property (IP) rights exist in formats, this assumption is disputed in law. Against this backdrop, format theft continues to be a threat, rendering IP protection of central importance to the formats industry.

Why FRAPA fights for the protection of formats

What are the rights to a TV format worth if one cannot reliably protect oneself against unlicensed copying? This lack of protection strikes at the heart of the trade in format rights. The commercial strength of the format industry depends on its capacity to protect its product.
A claim of ownership of a format IP should be made using the law of copyright….amongst other legal remedies. But in order to justify one’s IP rights to a format, a clear case needs to be made to support the following arguments:

  • Formats are the expression of the intellectual work of their creators. The creators have created a unique work by combining television elements (some commonplace, some unique) in a distinctive narrative structure.
  • Their creators should therefore be in a position to reap what they have sown. Anyone using a format without paying a licensing fee has wrongfully enriched themselves at the expense of the creator.
  • Formats require investment. The development, production and distribution of a format demand considerable financial resources. Investors need to be reassured that they will be able to make a profit on their investment.

How FRAPA can help

FRAPA aims to create a framework for format protection by:

  • Acting as an industry pressure group to lobby for the legal recognition of format rights.
  • Advise members about their rights and the potential remedies when those rights are threatened.
  • Introducing industry-acceptable business practices and defining a code of conduct for fair competition
  • Undertaking research, in order to assess the economic significance of the international trade in formats and to investigate the means of strengthening the protection of formats under law.