It is rare that UK copyright cases concerning the protection of TV formats give rise to fully reasoned decisions because such cases are usually settled before trial. So the prospect, in the Meakin case, of some up to date modern judicial guidance in this area was much anticipated. However, the case was so weak that this did not materialize.
The claimant, Mr Meakin, had, on separate occasions in November 2002 and in April and November 2003, submitted three short written proposals for a television program format to the BBC and two other parties. In the case, Mr Meakin described these proposals as being the first time it was suggested that contestants at home and in the studio might use their telephones and/or other interactivity to build cumulative scores to win a prize in a live television quiz. Subsequently, a series of TV programs entitled "Come and Have a Go ... If You Think You Are Smart Enough" (CHG) was developed from a short treatment submitted to the BBC in May 2002 by an independent producer. These programs were broadcast by the BBC in 2004 and 2005. Mr Meakin sued the BBC (and three co-defendants) claiming infringement of his proposals as literary and dramatic copyright works.
The BBC sought the dismissal of Mr Meakin's copyright infringement claims in a summary judgment application to the High Court; that is to say, on the basis that his claims did not have a "realistic" prospect of success (as opposed to a "fanciful" prospect of success).
Interestingly, and apparently without substantial argument on the point, the court was prepared to assume that Mr Meakin's claim to subsistence of dramatic copyright (as well as of literary copyright) in his proposals was arguable. This was the first time that the English court has given clear guidance that a claim of dramatic copyright infringement could go forward in relation to an alleged infringement by virtue of the making and broadcast of a TV game show (or reality) format. Nevertheless, this ruling made no difference to the outcome.
The court held that there was no prospect of establishing that CHG was derived from any of Mr Meakin's proposals. The common features relied on by him to demonstrate derivation (for example, the size of the quiz jackpot being proportional to the number/value of premium rate calls received) were, even when considered cumulatively, insufficient to give rise to an inference of copying (derivation).
Further, even if Mr Meakin had been able to show that CHG was derived from his proposals, the court found that he would have had no real prospect of success in establishing that a substantial part of the expression of his proposals has been taken. This was because the similarities he relied upon amounted to no more than general ideas at a fairly high level of abstraction and were commonplace ideas in the field of television game show formats.
With Mr Meakin's copyright claims having been held to be "simply unreal," we continue to wait for a decision of a UK court following trial in a case concerning the protection of dramatic copyright in a modern TV program format. Until then, the extent of such protection under UK law remains uncertain.