Jewish World Review Oct. 18, 2004 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

Dan Abrams

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Why you can't copyright a reality show idea


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I know… you have the next "The Apprentice" or "Survivor" — the one idea that will have Americans glued to their TV sets. You can already see your new office with the "Executive Producer" plaque out front.


Well take it from me: Give it up!


And not because your concept wouldn't be a hit. Not because it's not a great idea…. but because you will find it very difficult to protect the copyright on it. Also, networks have already heard or come up with many of the concepts.


I know how it feels, I had a reality show idea that was somewhere between "Dateline NBC" and "The Swan." After passing it to a few people in the biz, and being summarily blown off, I investigated what I could do to protect my concept. In my paranoid and delusional world, someone was going to pilfer my creativity and make millions.


The legal answer? You can't do a whole lot. In fact, in the fights between networks over who stole whose concept, so far, not one has been able to protects its concept from alleged theft.


That doesn't mean they don't try: Two reality boxing shows are involved in litigation. CBS sued ABC, saying that "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here" was a "Survivor" rip-off. ABC argued that Fox's "Trading Spouses" stole the concept of "Wife Swap." The list goes on and on.


Time after time, the courts rule that you can't copyright an idea. And most of these reality show concepts are considered "too generic to protect."


So take it from me.


I had fun working on my concept. I still think it would have been a hit. I can't tell you what it is because I still hope to make millions... but in "reality," it's probably not worth squat, even if I do see it pop up on the air somewhere...


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JWR contributor Dan Abrams anchors “The Abrams Report,” Monday through Friday from 9-10 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. He also covers legal stories for “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “Today” and “Dateline NBC.” To visit his website, click here. Comment by clicking here.

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