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How can you legally protect your idea for a reality show?

Everything starts with a simple idea! The idea forms the base of our media and entertainment industry. However, we cannot deny the fact that it is difficult to protect an idea legally. We know that Copyright law does not protect an idea but an expression. We do not have a direct legal framework to protect an idea. That is one of the reasons why idea theft is so rampant in our entertainment industry. Further, there is always confusion surrounding the extent of legal protection to an idea. The idea is the USP when it comes to the reality show! In this article, we are going to discuss the issue regarding the protection of a reality show idea. Let me give you an illustration before we discuss the legal position.

Maya has a fantastic idea for a reality show. She comes to know that a producer named Mr. Mehta wants to produce a reality show. She writes the following email to Mr. Mehta;

Dear Mr. Mehta,

I have a fantastic idea for a reality show that you may be interested in producing. We can select 12 participants and keep them in a forest where they have to face survival challenges. The participant who survives all the challenges shall be the winner. Let me know if you are interested.

Thank you.

Maya.

However, she does not receive any revert from Mr. Mehta. After a few months, she comes across the trailer of a reality show produced by Mr. Mehta. It is clear from the trailer that participants are kept on a lonely island. They are facing several surviving challenges like a zombie attack, ice-rain, shortage of food and warm clothes, etc. It is also clear from another trailer that participants were undergone rigorous training before their selection into the show.

Maya was shocked to see the trailers and sued Mr. Mehta for copyright infringement and breach of confidentiality. What do you think will she succeed in her claims?

We need to analyze the current legal position before we answer the above question. I find the Delhi High Court judgment in the case of Mr. Anil Gupta and Anr. vs. Mr. Kunal Dasgupta and Ors 2002 most relevant and elaborated. Let me briefly tell you the fact of this case. In this case, the plaintiff had shared a detailed concept note of a reality show based Swayamber system with the defendants in confidence. He had presented his concept/idea of the reality show with all the details and the nuances. There were several rounds of narration and discussion between the plaintiff and the defendants. The plaintiff was shocked to see the news article stating that the defendants are making a reality show named ‘Camera, Lights, Shehnai’ that had uncanny similarities with his concept. He had a direct point of contact. Hence, he sued the defendants for copyright infringement and breach of confidentiality.

The Court heard both parties in details and came to the following conclusion;

“…An idea per se has no copyright. But if the idea is developed into a concept fledged with adequate details, then the same is capable of registration under the Copyright Act. It should include the silent features like the format and stricture in detail.”

“When an idea or concept has been developed to a stage that it could be seen to be a concept which has some attractiveness to get an audience on a television program and could be realized as an actuality then the concept is capable of being the subject of confidential communication.”

Further, the Court held that there should be an element of novelty and innovation in the concept. For, example Swayamber proposed by the Plaintiff in the present case is different from the one given in Epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The Court also held that the Plaintiff had shared the Concept note and all details in confidence. The Respondent breached confidentiality by doing unauthorized appropriation of the concept. Hence, the Court granted an injunction against the release of the defendant’s show.

Now, coming to our illustration, will Maya receive the injunction against the release of the reality show? In my opinion, it is difficult! We can observe that she has shared merely the core idea without sufficient details. She has not shared anything regarding the format, structure, characters, etc. of the show. We know that an abstract idea is not protected under copyright law. Similarly, in the absence of details, there is very little chance of getting any solid protection under confidentiality law.

Hence, do not commit the mistake that Maya has committed. Follow my following three golden tips in case you want to pitch your reality show idea.

a. Novelty and innovation: Your idea should be innovative and novel. It should not be anything similar to the existing shows like Big Boss, Sa re ga ma, India Idol, etc.


b. Detail, detail, and detail: The best thing to do is to come up with an original show concept and clearly describe in great detail your show, plot, characters, format, etc. so that you can be in the best position to protect it with copyright. You can consult a lawyer who can assist you with the format in which you need to present the idea to get adequate protection before you pitch the same.


c. Sign an NDA: Protecting an idea is a highly sensitive thing. Hence, it is advisable to sign an NDA with the person with whom you are sharing your idea. It shall give you a solid ground in the case of idea theft.

I hope you like the article. Let me know your comments in the comment section.


Picture credit: it is a representational image taken from https://www.edexlive.com/.

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