How to protect a TV format
Game show formats and reality TV shows like Love Island and Big Brother have been extremely popular not only in the UK, but also internationally. Format rights are therefore important both commercially and creatively, however, since a TV format is essentially an idea for a TV programme, it is difficult to protect it as copyright works (as copyright does not protect ideas).
In the UK, TV format can potentially be subject to copyright protection as:
- literary works (in case of scripts and ‘paper formats’ in written form which describe the format’s structure, sequence, proposed name and other key production elements),
- artistic works (if the format includes any artworks),
- dramatic works, and
- musical works (such as theme tunes).
However, there have been quite a few court cases where the format creators failed to establish copyright protection in their TV formats that they pitched to TV studios. Therefore, copyright, on its own, is not always the best mechanism for protecting format rights.
We recommend using various intellectual property and contractual rights and taking the following practical steps to maximise your TV format protections:
- Reduce your idea to writing and develop as many details as possible before showing it to anyone. The more information about the TV format you can reduce to writing, the greater your chances of protecting the format by copyright as a literary work;
- Carefully record the creative process and keep a paper or e-trail of the development of the concept – e.g. every time you amend the document, you should date it and save it as a separate document;
- Develop a brand identity for your TV format (programme name/catchphrases/logo) and register it as a trade mark in various classes and in various territories;
- Register the domain names for the title of the TV format as well as social media accounts;
- Develop designs for your TV format (for example, costumes can be protected by registered design rights, visual props and set can be reduced to an illustration to protect the look of the show as an artistic work under copyright);
- Keep it confidential: request that anyone to whom you show the format proposal signs a non-disclosure agreement beforehand. At the very least make it clear that the information they are receiving is confidential and is not to be used without your consent. Mark your format bible with a ‘confidential’ notice on its cover and use ‘confidential’ watermarks on each page;
- Seek protection of the TV format in other countries – for example, in the US you can register your TV format with FRAPA – The Format Recognition and Protection Association.
If you developed an idea for a TV show or a TV series and you have questions on how best to protect it or if you have any questions on copyright and other intellectual property rights, please do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] or on 020 72886003.
Written by Anastasia Troshkova, solicitor