In a judgment of June 14 2011 Madrid Commercial Court No 12 afforded a television programme format legal protection under Spanish copyright law.

The Spanish Television Broadcasting Company (TVE) filed a lawsuit against Gestevisión Telecinco that primarily alleged copyright infringement which arose from the plagiarism of the format of the programme I Have a Question for You. Secondarily, TVE claimed that the defendant had violated the Unfair Competition Act by taking unfair advantage of the reputation of the original programme's format.

TVE's programme format consisted of a live talk show in which a number of spectators – previously selected in order to be as representative as possible of the Spanish population – asked a politician questions, the politician not knowing the questions beforehand so as to make it as spontaneous as possible.

The defendant's programme, Spain Asks, Belén Responds, bore certain similarities to the plaintiff's show, but with the important difference that the show's guest was one of Spain's tabloid celebrities.

TVE filed a lawsuit requesting the unlimited cessation of Telecinco's broadcast of the programme and compensation for damages, arguing that I Have a Question for You was an original work of art and therefore protected under Article 10 of the Intellectual Property Act. This article sets out that original works are protected by the act.

The defendant alleged that a television programme format was not eligible for copyright protection under Spanish law, and particularly the plaintiff's programme format, which the defendant considered not to be an original work.

In response to the these claims and regarding the key issue of the originality of the programme format, the court – after considering the documents provided by the plaintiff – found that in order for a television programme format to be original, it should possess a certain complexity which must result from a creative activity. In this case, the complexity was acknowledged on the grounds of:

  • the fact that TVE had acquired the programme format from French television;
  • the existence of a "production bible" in which every part of the format was described in detail; and
  • the fact that TVE had subcontracted another company to select the television audience for it.

The court considered that I Have a Question for You did not have the characteristics of a normal talk show (as claimed by Telecinco in its reply), but had a complex format.

Accordingly, the court found that the threshold requirement of originality had been met, considering that TVE's programme format was unique and different, able to differentiate itself from other similar formats and thus protectable under the Intellectual Property Act.

Therefore, after comparing the defendant's show with that of the plaintiff, the court found that there was a great similarity between the two, with an important exception being that of the guest invited. This led the court to conclude that TVE's show had been plagiarised and consequently order the defendant to cease its violations and to compensate TVE for the infringing actions.

Finally, the court stated that, had it been necessary, it would have been prepared to rule that the defendant had violated the Unfair Competition Act.

For further information on this topic please contact José Antonio Pontijas at Grau & Angulo by telephone (+34 91 353 36 77), fax (+34 91 350 26 64) or email ([email protected]).