Copyright and Reality TV Shows

There is a thin line between inspiration and infringement. Copying a script in a unique way is inspiration, but “in an original way” it is an absolute infringement of that right. Copyright cannot protect “ideas” but only the mere expression of the same.

There are so many reality TV shows in the present day, it is not easy to get protection for your concept and distinctiveness. No reality show with a generic script can fight for infringement in the Court. It is essential to show the copying of the “formats” of the concept and how unique they are.

1. The recent case of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. v. Sony Pictures Networks[1] (Bombay High Court) The plaintiff, Zee Entertainment claims that its popular show ‘India’s Best Dramebaaz’, a televised talent hunt for child actors in the 5-12 age group has been illicitly copied by the defendant, infringing its concept note and ‘production bible’. Zee contended that Sony’s upcoming show ‘Sabse Bada Kalakar’ is a copy of ‘Indias Best Dramebaaz

The court held that though Zee’s goodwill and reputation were not disputable, the other two factors of the classic trinity test, i.e. misrepresentation and damage, were not sufficiently addressed through the material presented. The court also observed that though copyright vests in a production bible and concept notes as they are not just ideas but expression of ideas, it does not follow that every page of a production bible or concept note enjoys the same level of protection. In a teeming industry like entertainment, common elements are bound to be found and a person claiming copyright in some aspect of a show must not readily claim copyright in relation to matters which are incontestably in the public domain.

2. The most famous case for reality show and infringement is Anil Gupta v. Kunal Gupta and Ors.[2] 2002 (Delhi High Court), where the plaintiff, a media consultant, in the year 1996, conceived an idea of producing a reality television program containing the process of match making to the point of actual spouse selection calling it “Swayamvar”. Mr. Sibal, the learned counsel for the plaintiff contended that it is a unique and novel concept for a T.V show and the registration for the concept was accepted for which a certificate was also issued in 1997. The defendants (who had discussed the same with the plaintiff before and showed interest in the same, later declared of launching a big budget reality TV show which would also provide for a platform for matchmaking called “Shubh Vivah”. Mr. Sibal (Counsel for Petitioner) later contended that the copyright was for creative, unique and novel TV show to conduct a real life matchmaking that was being infringed by the defendant.

The Court held that the plaintiff has prima facie proved that the defendants were aware of the unique concept that was developed by the plaintiff and balance of convenience lied in favour of the plaintiff and thus granted injunction against the defendant. Therefore, the defendants were restrained from transmitting the television show “Shubh Vivah” or any show similar to that of the plaintiff’s.

3. Another curious of copyright infringement of a reality show is Urmi Juvekar Chiang v. Global Broadcast News Limited[3] 2007 (Bombay High Court), which was on the similar lines of the above- mentioned case. Here, the plaintiff conceived an idea of a reality television programme, tilted “Work in Progress” which would follow citizens from different parts of the country as they took the initiative and set out to solve a civic problem of their choice in the locality. The plaintiff transformed her idea into a concept and prepared a concept note sharing it with the defendants. The defendants showed interest and after various meeting with the plaintiff, the matter was not concluded. Later, the plaintiff came across a promotion of the reality show, “Summer Showdown” having the same concept, launched by the defendants clearly indicating the infringement of the plaintiff’s rights. The Court restrained the defendants from exploiting the plaintiff’s work without her consent.

From the above cases it is easy to conclude that copyright cannot protect an idea or a concept but only the form in which it is expressed. The cases above also conclude that copyright can also exist in a particular “show format”. Format elements, which are generic i.e common to the particular genre like game show, talent show etc. cannot be protected and will be ignored in assessing infringement. To succeed infringement, it is necessary that the infringer is reproducing a substantial part of another show’s format and not just copying the generic idea as to the concept of the show.

Author: Ms. Tushita Dogra, intern at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorneys. Can be reached at


[1]  AIR2017Bom221

[2] AIR2002Delhi379

[3] 2008 (2) BomCR 400, 2007





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