Television format rights
Produced in partnership with Katrien Roos of Harbottle & Lewis
Television format rights

The following TMT practice note produced in partnership with Katrien Roos of Harbottle & Lewis provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Television format rights
  • What is a television format
  • Formats and copyright protection
  • Infringement of television formats
  • Originality
  • European influence on protecting television formats
  • Post-IP completion day—impact on television format rights
  • Pitching formats—misuse of confidential information
  • Format protection—a multi-tier approach
  • Acquiring television format rights—key issues
  • More...

What is a television format

A television format is a concept or idea for a television programme or series of programmes presented in a particular way often including characteristic features such as music or branding or a particular setting that are repeated in each programme.

In the non-scripted space, game show formats are popular, and the partially scripted reality TV shows ‘Love Island’ and ‘Big Brother’ are examples of successful television formats and how these can be exploited not only in the UK, but also adapted for exploitation in international markets. ‘Downton Abbey’ is an example of a successful scripted series, based on an original format created by Julian Fellowes. New television formats can also be created when the characters, storylines and settings of an existing work are altered to such a degree as to create a new, original format. Examples include the US show ‘Elementary’ and the UK series ‘Sherlock’, which both depart significantly from the original Arthur Conan Doyle story.

Format rights are important both commercially and creatively in the UK and internationally and can be valuable commodities. However, given that a television format is in essence a concept or idea for a television programme or series, format creators/owners have historically found it difficult to protect television formats as copyright works in their own right, and have often had to rely on a combination of

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