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CBS vs. ABC Lawsuit: The Glass House

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CBS files a (fascinating) lawsuit over Glass House’s connections to Big Brother

by Andy Dehnart / May 10, 2012, 6:27 PM
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After warning ABC about the connections between its announced series Glass House and CBS’ Big Brother, CBS has filed suit.

The full lawsuit [PDF] (via The Hollywood Reporter’s story) sues Disney, ABC, producers, and many individuals who now work on the ABC show but used to work on the CBS show, claiming ABC’s “is a carbon copy of Big Brother and an obvious attempt by Defendants to capitalize on its unique success.” The lawsuit says there has been “blatant theft of its copyrightable expression, trade secrets, and other confidential and proprietary information.”

Most comical is the section that describes the show:

“Big Brother is a ground-breaking reality television show that involves a contest among guests who live in a house and who are filmed continuously, perform challenges and tasks, and vote each other of the show. … Big Brother was the first series of its kind to combine the drama and competition of elimination with the developing teelvision genre of modern observational documentary.
Um, anyone at CBS ever hear of Survivor? Or ABC’s Making the Band, which premiered months earlier and did exactly that? (There is a chance they are referring to the original Dutch format that it is based on, but the language demonstrates one of the challenges of these kinds of claims. The lawsuit also cites “unique interactive features” of the show that include America’s Player and the 24-hour feed, and compares them to Glass House’s announced format.

The lawsuit—worth a read because of all the details it goes into—mentions that producers had access to “critically important documents”: the “House Guest Manual,” “Producer’s Binder,” and “Story Producer’s Handbook,” and also cites the producers and crew members’ “unprecedented and troubling degree of access to CBS’s copyrightable expression, as well as CBS’s protected trade secrets and other confidential and proprietary information related to the behind-the-scenes development, filming, and production of Big Brother.” It insists that “none of these protected trade secrets can be discovered or ‘reverse engineered’ merely by watching Big Brother.”

In other words: Big Brother is much, much harder to produce than it seems. You try to get a challenge to ejaculate on a mentally unstable person who’s being manipulated by flirty producers.

UPDATE: CBS Sues ABC Over Reality Show ‘Glass House’, ABC Dismisses Accusations

2ND UPDATE 4PM: ABC has issued the following statement in response of CBS’ filing: “We believe there is no merit to this lawsuit. The differences between Glass House and Big Brother are both fundamental and obvious, ranging from Glass House’s interactive elements and audience participation to its deployment of cutting edge technologies.

UPDATE, 3:05 PM: CBS claims in the lawsuit (read it here) that The Glass House employs “at least 19″ former producers and staff from Big Brother, and details them all by name in today’s filing. CBS is suing for copyright infringement, trade-secret misappropriation, unfair competition, breach of contract and conspiracy among other claims, calling Glass House “a carbon copy” of its Big Brother. As for dollar amounts, the network is asking for $500,000 “for each of the Individual Defendants’ acts in violation of the non-disclosure agreements” — with multiple clauses, those totals add up fast — in addition to other damages and legal fees. “CBS therefore brings this action to obtain preliminary and permanent injunctive relief and restitution, and to recover compensatory and punitive damages.”

PREVIOUS, 1:45 PM: A week after CBS fired a warning shot with a letter to ABC threatening to take legal action if the network proceeds with its recently announced summer reality series The Glass House, the eye network today filed a lawsuit against the Disney-owned broadcast networks. I haven’t seen the filing yet, but last week’s letter noted that Glass House “exposes ABC to liability, including damages and injunctive relief, for violation of the Copyright Act, including breach of non-disclosure agreements and misappropriation of trade secrets.” CBS is basing its case on the fact that the concept of Glass House is very similar to its veteran Big Brother. The network also claims that the ABC series employs at least 18 former members of CBS’ Big Brother production staff, many of whom have signed confidentiality agreements with CBS, which the network argues would be breached in their work for Glass House.

ABC Fires Back at CBS Lawsuit Over 'Big Brother'-Type Reality Show
"Even CBS must realize it cannot copyright the idea of 14 contestants living in a house rigged with cameras," the ABC court papers argue.

ABC has shot back in the legal war over its upcoming reality series Life in a Glass House, which is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by Big Brother network CBS.
As we first reported on May 10, CBS sued ABC and several producers for copyright and trade secret infringement, alleging Glass House is a "carbon copy" ripoff of Big Brother and is being produced by a team of 19 staffers that formerly worked on the long-running hit show.
CBS then filed court papers May 14 asking for limited fact-finding to support a planned motion for a preliminary injunction to stop development of the ABC series before its scheduled premiere on June 18. And now ABC has responded, offering its first detailed argument for why the case is bogus and the request for an expedited time-table for a preliminary injunction motion should be denied.
Calling the suit a "meritless attempt to shut down development of ABC's newest reality televison program," the network claims it hasn't even finalized rules or constructed a set but nonetheless it lays out several alleged distinctions between the two shows: unlike Big Brother, Glass House contestants will be able to see outside the house and interact with fans via social media; there will be no host (Julie Chen hosts Big Brother) and it will be team-oriented, rather than the every-man-for-himself theme of Big Brother. For these reasons and others, ABC argues that the CBS copyright claim will fail. "Even CBS must realize it cannot copyright the idea of 14 contestants living in a house rigged with cameras," the ABC court papers state.
On the trade secret violation claim, ABC argues that there's nothing secret about a show that has aired on CBS since 2000 (and around the world via deals with creator Endemol), and that workers typically move around a lot in the unscripted TV business. "Employee mobility is the norm, not the exception in reality TV," the ABC court papers argue. "Employees, who generally must be rehired each season, are often itinerant, going from series to series looking for a better opportunity." That's especially true at Big Brother, ABC argues, due to the show's "low pay and 24 hour a day / 7 days a week filming schedule."
After arguing that judge Margaret M. Morrow should deny the request for "expidited" discovery, ABC then sets out a proposed schedule that, if adopted by the court, would culminate in a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction on June 11.
CBS wants the judge to intervene immediately, and the network is requesting permission to obtain documents and deposition testimony from ABC relating to Glass House and several former Big Brother producers that are involved in making the new show. CBS says the requests are urgent.
"Because Glass House is now in the midst of production, the value to Defendants of CBS' trade secrets and confidential information is at its highest, and those trade secrets are likely being disclosed on the production of Glass House every day," the network argues. "CBS will suffer substantial and irreparable harm if these wrongs are allowed to continue, as compared to the limited burden that this discovery will place on Defendants."
With Glass House set to premiere in less than a month, the clock is ticking. Will CBS successfully convince the judge to stop the show in its tracks?
ABC is repped by Glenn Pomerantz and a team from Munger Tolles & Olson and Devin McRae of LA's Early Sullivan firm. CBS is repped by Scott Edelman and a team from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

Reality TV's Copycat Fight: Can CBS Stop ABC's Glass House?

Jun 5, 2012 02:28 PM ET
by Michael Schneider

Radio and TV pioneer Fred Allen once quipped, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television." But he didn't live to see today's reality-TV wars, which erupted again this spring after CBS accused ABC of ripping off Big Brother and Fox announced plans to tweak NBC's The Voice.

Can't we all just get along? When it comes to unscripted TV, the answer is a resounding "no." CBS has filed suit to stop ABC from launching the new reality show The Glass House, which is scheduled to debut on June 18 unless a federal judge slaps an injunction on it. And that's just the latest in a long line of complaints between networks over copycat shows.

TV Guide Magazine first broke the news of The Glass House in April, calling it ABC's attempt to "take on" Big Brother. CBS claims ABC stole trade secrets and is guilty of copyright infringement by creating a show that is similar in nature to Big Brother — 14 contestants living in a large house, isolated from the outside world, who are filmed continuously; interactive features; and contestants who are voted off, with the last player winning a big prize.

CBS notes that 19 staffers on The Glass House once worked on Big Brother, including executive producer Kenny Rosen, and says all of them had signed nondisclosure agreements. The sheer number of ex-Big Brother employees proves that ABC is copying the show, CBS says, and will now have the ability to rely on the unique ways that Big Brother is produced, including the technical setup and story-producing process. "CBS has expended considerable time, money and labor in the development of these trade secrets," the suit says. Calling the actions "oppressive and malicious," CBS is asking for $500,000 for "each act of violation," among other damages.

But The Glass House will still go on, as ABC has so far caught a break: CBS' case has bounced around the court, as two different judges wound up excusing themselves from the case. A third judge then sent the case's lawyers to a magistrate to start taking depositions and collecting documents — but it's unclear whether CBS will have enough information to file an injunction against The Glass House before its June 18 debut. (CBS may have a better case once the new show debuts and it's an apparent Big Brother clone. On the flip side, if The Glass House looks and feels different enough, CBS' case may be moot.)

ABC is going out of its way in order to not tip its hat to CBS — so far, The Glass House hasn't released many details, such as actual photos of its set. The show only announced its contestants on Monday.

This isn't the first time CBS and ABC tussled over a reality show. In 2003, CBS tried to stop ABC from airing I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! — which CBS claimed was a rip-off of Survivor. A judge noted that TV shows continue to borrow elements from programs that aired before them, and let Celebrity proceed. CBS also sued Fox over Boot Camp, another Survivor clone, but settled out of court. And the producers behind ABC's Wife Swap once filed suit against Fox for the copycat Trading Spouses, but a judge let Fox air that show anyway.

Of course, there were plenty of Friends wannabes back in the day, but cloning is particularly egregious in the unscripted world, where carbon copies of shows such as Pawn Stars are now plentiful and singing competitions are proliferating. The trend is nothing new: In 1979, NBC's Real People inspired ABC's That's Incredible!, which launched the next year. After Who Wants to Be a Millionaire revived the game show in 1999, every network quickly aired a clone — and all of them looked suspiciously similar, right down to the dark stage and flashing lights. The Bachelor led to plenty of dating shows — including Fox's infamous Joe Millionaire.

These copycats may be annoying, but no judge has been willing to say that they're copyright infringement. Some can even be considered parody, like Fox's The Choice, which takes the famous spinning chairs of The Voice and applies it to a dating show. NBC, which is likely miffed over the idea, has been mum, as there's no law against spoofing the competition and any reaction would likely help promote The Choice.

Given the previous outcomes, CBS' odds of stopping The Glass House are long. "These types of lawsuits are extremely difficult for the plaintiffs to win," says entertainment lawyer Aaron Moss. "Copyright law prevents anyone from claiming protection in elements that are commonplace to the genre. These include basic staples of reality TV like contestants living in a house, competing in challenges and being voted off." (Otherwise, The Real World could probably sue everyone.)

ABC called the suit "meritless," arguing that Glass House is different in several ways. Others believe CBS is simply looking to put a little fear into ABC and make sure The Glass House is different. "They may just be trying to disrupt a competitor and scare the producers," says attorney Steve Smith.

Most clones are ratings duds, and even blip megahits like Joe Millionaire quickly fade away. But the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire fakes helped hasten its demise, and all the current singing shows are cannibalizing one another, so CBS is looking to protect Big Brother from losing its mojo.

As for the nondisclosure breach, Moss says, "This adds a different dimension to the case, but ultimately, in order to shut down Glass House, CBS will need to prove that the similarities show up on the screen." Careful, ABC: Big Brother is watching you.


With the live feeds set to begin Monday Night, CBS has stepped up is game to prevent The Glass House from starting, Yahoo has posted the following article via The Hollywood Reporter:

CBS Filing Tonight for Emergency Injunction Against ABC's 'Glass House'

The Hollywood Reporter – 11 minutes ago..
CBS is set to file a request for a temporary restraining order to stop upcoming reality series Glass House from airing on ABC. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that the court papers will be filed in federal court in Los Angeles tonight by lawyers for CBS.

As we previously reported, CBS is suing ABC over the upcoming strangers-living-together show, arguing that it violates the intellectual property of Big Brother and that trade secrets obtained by at least 19 former Big Brother employees are being used to create the new show. ABC denies that Glass House, which is set to debut June 18, is a copycat, arguing that CBS can't possibly claim copyright infringement over a live competition show that hasn't been created yet.

A lengthy deposition took place Sunday of defendant Kenny Rosen, executive producer of Glass House and a former producer of Big Brother. The Rosen interrogation lasted seven hours, according to court documents, during which he was grilled about the format for Glass House and whether he is using any secret information or resources from his previous job at Big Brother to create the ABC show. During the deposition, sources say he admitted that about 27 former Big Brother staffers are working on Glass House, and that he consulted Big Brother manuals when putting together the plan for Glass House.   

CBS tipped its plan in court papers filed earlier this week, in whcih the network outlined its argument against the show.

"CBS undeniably has an interest in stopping the irreparable harm caused by Defendants' ongoing misappropriation of trade secrets, infringement of Big Brother's copyright and other unlawful activity (including spoilaiton of evidence)," the network's proposed schedule argued. "For these reasons, CBS intends to seek a [temporary restraining order] preventing the ongoing production and imminent airing of Glass House on June 18."

ABC and Rosen responded with their own court filing disputing CBS' characterization of the case and Rosen's deposition. "For example, it is misleading -- and frankly irrelevant to the legal claims -- that Mr. Rosen said he hired more than 20 people with prior experience on Big Brother," the Defendants argue. "What CBS does not tell this Court is that Mr. Rosen also testified that the vast majority of these people worked with Mr. Rosen more recently on a different reality show, Hell's Kitchen, that has nothing to do with Big Brother. It is true that Mr. Rosen hires people with whom he has experience working on reality shows; there is nothing improper about that."



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