Television formats are one-of-a-kind and unique parts of a show that are combined to create an idea that is clearly different from other television shows. Format-based shows with a worldwide appeal include Big Brother, The Voice, and America's Got Talent, to name a few. The growth in generation of production volumes of format shows from €6.4bn in the years 2002, 2003 and 2004 to €9.3bn in the years 2006, 2007, 2008 establish that the producers of these television formats churn out huge profits from the telecast of the shows.
However, recent litigation has brought to light a number of issues that producers and networks may not have addressed before developing some of these series. While popular programmes might bring in a lot of money, they can also be readily imitated, requiring producers and their attorneys to go to the courts to defend their creative investments. For the purposes of this article, the most notable of these cases assert intellectual property rights, focusing on charges of concept and format theft.
The research investigates if there is a need for legal protection of television formats, and if so, which aspects of formats are protected and experience difficulties as a result of such protection, as well as how ownership disputes stemming from such protection are resolved.
Furthermore, the protectability of unscripted television formats is questioned because they are only concepts that have yet to be transformed into full works in order to qualify for copyright protection. The research investigates whether television formats are more than simply ideas, and whether they may be classified as copyrighted works under the traditional definition, granting the format owners the sole right to prevent others from plagiarising the original format.