Television

RDF Media sues Fox over reality series ripoff

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MUMBAI: British independent television production company RDF Media has filed a lawsuit against US broadcaster Fox.

The lawsuit has accused Fox Broadcasting and Rocket Science Laboratories of ripping off RDF's original Wife Swap reality television series to create their own competing show, Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy.

The suit accuses Fox and Rocket Science, which jointly produce Trading Spouses with both copyright and trade dress infringement, as well as unfair competition. It claims that they attempted to capitalise on the success of RDF's Wife Swap by willfully and illegally developing Trading Spouses-- that incorporated all of the expressive elements and trade dress of Wife Swap.

Versions of Wife Swap have aired on British television since January 2003 and in the US on ABC since September 2004.

RDF programmes director Stephen Lambert who created and served as executive producer on Wife Swap had the following cutting remarks to make. "In our view, this is the most clear-cut case of copyright theft in the history of the reality genre. It has been widely reported that Fox has long pursued a strategy of ripping off other people's intellectual property. RDF intends to take full advantage of the law to put a stop to it."

The lawsuit states that Fox's parent News Corp COO Peter Chernin told Fox executives last year that he had seen the British version of Wife Swap during a visit to London and that "it was the show everyone was talking about in the United Kingdom."

After discovering that ABC had acquired the US rights to the show, the suit alleges that Fox and Rocket Science executives decided to copy its format and trade dress in order to to confuse viewers and mislead them into watching Trading Spouses rather than Wife Swap US.

In both Wife Swap and Trading Spouses two wives with contrasting values and lifestyles exchange spouses and families for a period of seven and ten days. During the first half of the trade, each wife must abide by the rules of the departing wife covering all aspects of household management, from chore delegation to budgeting, from food preparation to child discipline.

During the second half of the trade, each wife imposes her own rules on her new household. At the end of the swap, the two wives meet for the first time and share what they have learned about themselves, their spouses, and each other during the swap.

This is not the first time this year that Fox has been sued over a reality show. Earlier this year Dreamworks and Mark Burnett had sued the Rupert Murdoch owned broadcaster for stealing an idea for a boxing show. DreamWorks and Mark Burnett Productions had claimed ideas from their show, The Contender were stolen by Fox who produced The Next Great Champ. While Burnett lost the suit it didn't matter. Next Great Champ's low ratings and early exit made the suit a non-issue.

Coming back to the RDF suit at the annual meeting of the Television Critics Association in Los Angeles last July, Fox entertainment president Gail Berman acknowledged that Fox had specifically decided to develop a show similar to Wife Swap.

Meanwhile Daily Variety says that RDF is looking for at least $18 million in damages. The Hollywood Reporter has put the figure at $54 million. Unlike most reality show legal battles, both these shows faired well in the ratings. The burden will be on RDF Media to show there were stolen ideas that resulted in financial damage.

There could be further litigation in the near future. In January Fox and ABC will come out with shows involving nannies who discipline children. ABC rolls out Supernanny, a British-inspired reality show about a UK nanny who straightens out-of-control American children. Fox's Nanny 911, will be a British-produced reality show about a team of UK nannies who straighten out etc etc.

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