The High Court this month dismissed a claim brought for copyright infringement in a case relating to a popular television game show. The case illustrates the limits of intellectual property law to protect ideas and musings and the dangers of sharing these thoughts in a commercial setting without having appropriate copyright or contractual protections.
Minute to Win It, an international game show franchise, originally aired in the US and produced in a number of countries including Australia, India and Portugal, requires contestants to take part in a series of minute-long challenges using household items in a variety of situations. The show even appeared in the UK during a short eight-episode series on ITV2 in 2011 but it was the Danish production which led to this case being brought firstly in Sweden (where it was also dismissed) and now here in the UK.
The claimant in the case, a Danish citizen called Mr Banner, had seen his country’s version of Minute to Win It in 2011 and to his surprise, the format of the show mirrored what he believed to be the format of a show he pitched to a Swedish TV production company (‘Friday TV’) at a meeting in 2005. Mr Banner’s claim centred on emails which he subsequently sent to the Friday TV in which the synopsis for “Minute Winner” and ten more other new TV formats were sent. Mr Banner claimed that the synopsis was a dramatic work in which copyright subsists and that it was sent to Friday TV in circumstances that gave rise to an obligation of confidence upon them to him.
The synopsis included examples of minute-long tasks using everyday household items, as well as the following extracts:
- “Minute Winner is a television program in which people are given one minute to win something.”
- “The prizes are sponsored by firms/companies in exchange with advertisements during the program.”
- “daily or weekly show or as short one minute between main programs”
The synopsis also included a short paragraph reserving the copyright and intellectual property rights of the show to Mr Banner.
In the High Court, Mr Banner’s case was dismissed by summary judgment on the grounds that there was no copyright in the synopsis. Snowden J stated in principle that it is possible for a TV game show to enjoy copyright protection as a dramatic work, but in this case the synopsis did not meet the legal requirements for copyright protection. In the Court’s view, Mr Banner’s synopsis lacked sufficient specificity, and did not identify or prescribe anything resembling a coherent framework or structure which could be relied upon to reproduce a distinctive game show in recognisable form. To quote Snowden J, “the features were, in truth, commonplace an indistinguishable from the features of many other game shows”.
It is worth noting Snowden J commented that even if copyright existed in Minute Winner, Minute to Win It would not have infringed that copyright. This is because none of the tasks on Minute to Win It resembled the four examples of tasks set out in the Minute Winner synopsis. In the judge’s view, the only similarity between the two was the idea of challenges being completed in one minute only. Finally, with respect to Mr Banner’s claim of a breach of confidence, the judge held that the emails containing the synopsis were sent unsolicited and in the absence of any non-disclosure agreement, Friday TV was under no obligation of confidence.
The case demonstrates the dangers of sharing ideas and thoughts in a commercial setting without copyright or contractual protection. Although Mr Banner’s synopsis on the face of it seems similar to the Minute to Win It format, from a legal perspective proving intellectual property exists, and protecting it from infringement, can often be a challenge. Understanding these issues and taking the correct measures are essential for creative businesses and individuals to ensure that their concepts and inspirations aren’t used by others for their own gain.
Banner Universal Motion Pictures Ltd v Endemol Shine Group Ltd & Anor  EWHC 2600 (Ch) (19 October 2017)
Article written by Charlie Parker, Paralegal within the TMT department, DMH Stallard LLP.
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