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Ideas and copyright

An idea in itself is not straightaway eligible for protection by copyright. That’s what Raab TV has found out recently.

Raab TV is the producer of the German television programme Turmspringen (platform diving), in which celebrities venture to dive from the high board. Does this programme sound familiar? You may well be right, for Eyeworks last year produced a comparable programme broadcast in the Netherlands under the name of Sterren Springen (“Stars Diving”). And that’s what Raab TV objected to, before the District Court in The Hague.

The gist of Raab TV’s complaint: Sterren Springen also features celebrities taking part in a springboard diving contest. What is more, both Raab TV and Eyeworks were offering their formats for sale in various countries. Hence, in countries where Eyeworks had already sold its format, Raab TV could not create any interest in Turmspringen anymore.

Television format protected by copyright
In itself, a television format, provided it’s sufficiently concretized, can be protected by copyright. Relying on as many as 23 aspects of the Turmspringen format, Raab TV argued that its format enjoys copyright protection. For instance, the format includes features in the area of ‘show concept’, ‘the set’, ‘setting, look & feel’, ‘the contestants’, ‘graphics’, ‘the dive’ and ‘title/logo’. In the final analysis, however, the question is whether Eyeworks does in fact infringe Raab TV’s copyright by also producing a programme about springboard-diving celebrities.

No infringement
Although Sterren Springen contains elements from Turmspringen (for example, the type of contestants, the set, the kind of host, and the show elements around the dive), the court concludes that in the comparison the differences prevail. Sterren Springen creates a different overall impression and therefore does not infringe Raab TV’s copyright. As a consequence, Raab TV will have to tolerate the Eyeworks format on its side.

This case goes to show once again that an idea in itself – without concrete shaping or design – is not sufficient to rely on against third parties.