Green v Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand: PC 18 Jul 1989

Format of TV show not copyrightable

Court of Appeal of New Zealand – The plaintiff had developed the program ‘Opportunity Knocks’ on British television. He claimed copyright in the general structure or format of a similar television programme in New Zealand, and also in passing off. By ‘dramatic format’ the appellant meant the characteristic features of the show which were repeated in each performance. These were the title, the use of various catch phrases, the use of a device called a ‘clapometer’ to monitor audience reaction and the use of sponsors to introduce competitors.
Held: The format of the show was not was a dramatic work protected by copyright. The evidence given to the court was particularly diffuse, taling of gimmicks, such as the use of a ‘clapometer’, and there was no sufficient unity or coherence for a dramatic work to exist under copyright law.
Lord Bridge said: ‘It is stretching the original use of the word ‘format’ a long way to use it metaphorically to describe the features of a television series such as a talent, quiz or game show which is presented in a particular way, with repeated but unconnected use of set phrases and with the aid of particular accessories. Alternative terms suggested in the course of argument were ‘structure’ or ‘package’. This difficulty in finding an appropriate term to describe the nature of the ‘work’ in which the copyright subsists reflects the difficulty of the concept that a number of allegedly distinctive features of a television series can be isolated from the changing material presented in each separate performance (the acts of the performers in the talent show, the question and answers in the quiz show etc.) and identified as an ‘original dramatic work’. No case was cited to their Lordships in which copyright of the kind claimed had been established.
The protection which copyright gives creates a monopoly and ‘there must be certainty in the subject matter of such monopoly in order to avoid injustice to the rest of the world:’ Tate v Fulbrook [1908] 1 KB 821, per Farwell J . . The subject matter of the copyright claimed for the ‘dramatic format’ of ‘Opportunity Knocks’ is conspicuously lacking in certainty. Moreover, it seems to their Lordships that a dramatic work must have sufficient unity to be capable of performance and that the features claimed as constituting the ‘format’ of a television show, being unrelated to each other except as accessories to be used in the presentation of some other dramatic or musical performance, lack that essential characteristic.’

Lord Bridge
[1989] RPC 700, [1989] UKPC 26
England and Wales
ApprovedTate v Fulbrook 1908
Farwell LJ said of the Copyright Acts: ‘The Act creates a monopoly, and in such a case there must be certainty in the subject-matter of such monopoly in order to avoid injustice to the rest of the world.’ Copyright subsists in different categories . .
CitedFrancis Day and Hunter Limited v 20th Century Fox Corporation Limited PC 12-Oct-1939
(Ontario) Copyright protection was asserted on in connection with the title to a film (‘The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo’).
Held: It was not a literary work capable of attracting copyright protection. As a rule, such titles do not . .
Appeal fromGreen v Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand 22-Sep-1988
(Court of Appeal of New Zealand) The plaintiff had created a hugely sucessful TV programme in the UK, called Opportunity Knocks. He now appealed against rejection of his claim in copyright alleging that the defendant had copied the format, and also . .

Cited by:
CitedIPC Media Ltd v Highbury-Leisure Publishing Ltd ChD 21-Dec-2004
The claimant magazine publisher alleged breach of copyright by the defendant in their magazine, as to the cover page designs used. It was not clear just which cover was said to have been copied.
Held: The first step in a copyright action is . .
CitedBaigent and Another v The Random House Group Ltd (The Da Vinci Code) ChD 7-Apr-2006
The claimants alleged infringement of copyright by the defendant publishers and author in the plot and otherwise in the book ‘The Da Vinci Code’. They said that their own work had been copied substantially, using themes and copying language. The . .
CitedNova Productions Ltd v Mazooma Games Ltd and others ChD 20-Jan-2006
The claimant alleged copyright infringement in respect of computer games in the coin operated video market. It was said not that the games copied bitmap graphics, but rather the composite frames which appeared on the screen.
Held: The games . .
CitedMeakin v British Broadcasting Corporation and Others ChD 27-Jul-2010
The claimant alleged that the proposal for a game show submitted by him had been used by the various defendants. He alleged breaches of copyright and of confidence. Application was now made to strike out the claim. . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Intellectual Property

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.231500