Recognition and protection of television format rights

By Ameet Datta and Suvarna Mandal, Saikrishna & Associates
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The “television formats” for unscripted reality shows such as “IDOL” (American Idol, Indian Idol, etc.), “Big Brother” (Bigg Boss in India), and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” (Kaun Banega Crorepati in India) have become “properties” capable of monetization across different jurisdictions. Though licensing of formats is common in the television industry, the challenge posed by their unauthorized use is considerable.

Ameet Datta
Ameet Datta

A basic premise of copyright protection is that while ideas are not protected under the law, the expressions of ideas are protected. Therefore, even if an idea is “novel” and “original” it would not enjoy protection under copyright law unless it is expressed sufficiently to attract such protection. In India, format rights per se have not been recognized in courts, and have instead been coupled with aspects of breach of confidentiality.

Delhi High Court, 2002

In 2002, Delhi High Court in Anil Gupta And Anr v Kunal Dasgupta And Ors granted an injunction in favour of the plaintiffs for their concept in the reality television show Swayamvar, depicting matchmaking in Indian culture, against the defendants, who based on the plaintiffs’ concept intended to launch a television programme titled Shubh Vivah.

The court held that while the idea by itself cannot have a copyright, if the idea is developed into a concept with adequate details the concept can be registered as a copyright and would be protectable as such. The unauthorized use of this concept in a competitive environment, coupled with the confidential information contained within it, therefore would amount to a copyright infringement.

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Ameet Datta is a partner at Saikrishna & Associates, where Suvarna Mandal is an associate. The views expressed in this article are personal.

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