Despite its massive presence in the cultural industry, Italian law does not provide for any definition of television format, with the consequence that whether or not a television format is a protectable work under copyright law is a matter to be referred - on a case-by-case assessment - to the Italian courts.
In a recent ruling of 24 April 2015, the Court of Rome denied copyright protection to a TV show paper format on the basis that it was a rough and undetailed idea and therefore not protectable under Italian copyright law.
The claimant sued the Italian broadcaster RAI and argued that RAI had realized a new TV program based (and thus infringing his IP rights on) his work, a copy of which was filed with the S.I.A.E. (the Italian Collecting Society).
The Court ruled out that the claimant’s format was to be deemed as an enforceable copyrighted work because it was a poor and common idea of a TV show, not illustrating the relevant details regarding the actual development of the program, the run of which mostly depended on the improvisation of the TV host and the other leading characters.
The decision at issue confirmed the well-established Italian case-law concerning TV format enforceability, according to which copyright protection only concerns works meeting the requirements of creativity, originality and the so called “descriptive completeness”, which requires the TV format to provide for all the relevant detail of the program: a title, a narrative structure, the stage set and the fixed characters; the explicative and repeatable structure of the program. In other words, in the Court of Rome’s opinion, a TV format paper is protectable to the extent that it may be turned into a real TV show without any particular creativity effort being made by a TV producer.