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May iPad

CBS gets legal over Glass House

US network CBS has filed a lawsuit against rival ABC over the latter’s upcoming reality series Glass House, which it claims rips off Big Brother.

CBS is trying to halt development of the ABC series and claim damages relating to its creation, alleging it was “an obvious attempt” to “capitalise” on the success of Big Brother, which is now in its 13th season in the US.

The filing, to a Los Angeles court, also claims confidential trade secrets and “other confidential and proprietary information” could have been passed to ABC because staff who previously worked on Big Brother are now involved in Glass House.

ABC, along with parent Disney and production house Keep Calm & Carry On Productions, is named in the suit, along with “a remarkable” 19 production staff who worked on Big Brother.

ABC couldn’t be contacted directly today but numerous US news outlets reported the net had released a statement denying the allegations. It read: “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.”

The Big Brother format’s creator, Endemol, which today named Tim Hincks as global president, is understood to have no part in CBS’s legal action and was not named. It has strongly defended its formats in the past and won a case against Brazilian broadcaster SBT over Big Brother.

Today’s news suggests CBS feels it has a strong case, despite the known difficulties of proving format copyright infringement.

Format protection alliance FRAPA yesterday urged the use of mediation to end the dispute before it reached court. FRAPA works with UN-backed intellectual property organisation WIPO on such cases, but on this occasion CBS has decided on another route.

Instead, the Eye network claimed: “If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then CBS should take pride in ABC’s latest reality project.”

Glass House was described as a “carbon copy” that “replicates every key aspect of Big Brother, including, among other things, its plot, themes, mood, setting, pace, characters, sequence of events and other concrete elements.”

Both are reality competition shows that have about 14 contestants living in a purpose-built house under the constant watch of cameras, which broadcast the action constantly through TV shows and online feeds. Contestants are evicted through public votes, a system CBS claimed was pioneered by its series.

CBS’s lawyers said: “The two series are virtually identical,” and listed a number of other elements common to both.

They also accused staff of “actively disclosing” trade secrets in violation of broad and binding non-disclosure agreements signed for their work on Big Brother. Glass House’s showrunner Kenny Rosen was a co-executive producer on Big Brother, Michael O’Sullivan a producer and ABC’s VP of alternative programming Corie Henson also worked on the show.

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