The Italian Supreme Court confirmed in July that certain TV formats could be protected by copyright law.

Regular TV viewers will notice the continuing emergence of unique and original programme formats. With this emergence, comes a potential for great financial return which in turn, to no surprise, often results in litigation. 

Litigation surrounding the treatment of TV formats and their legal status is complex, and can vary greatly across jurisdictions. Protecting a TV format under English law, for example, has proven a difficult task with courts refusing to include various formats under the scope of copyright. Further afield, there’s a more liberal interpretation to IP protection. RTI Reti Televisive Italiane Spa v Ruvido Produzioni Srl (decision 18633/17 ((27 July 2017)) is a great example of such a case. The Italian Supreme Court confirmed that TV formatting fell within the realm of copyright protection. The court confirmed that, although the law didn’t define ‘the idea of a format’, it should consider the Italian copyright collecting agency’s guidance. 

According to its definition, a work can qualify as a ‘format’ if it displays:

-logical and thematic connections

-a title

- a basic narrative structure

-scenography and fixed characters

The court did impose conditions that need to be met in order for ‘formats’ to fall under IP protection. For example, it should include a programmatic structure, identify the structural elements of the story, and comprise of main characters and a main plot line. 

An idea without any of the above elements wouldn’t fall under IP protection. But, a TV format doesn’t have to be completely original. As long as it can meet the above requirements, it should benefit from new-found Italian protection. 

Currently, there are no equivalent laws in the UK that protect TV formats but it will be interesting to see how this area of law develops in other countries, including the UK, following this decision of the Italian Supreme Court.

For more information, please contact Nick de Figueiredo

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