May 24th, 2012

Hollywood Reporter, Esq.

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ABC Fires Back at CBS Lawsuit Over ‘Big Brother’-Type Reality Show

“Even CBS must realize it cannot copyright the idea of 14 contestants living in a house rigged with cameras,” the ABC court papers argue.

ABC has shot back in the legal war over its upcoming reality series Life in a Glass House, which is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by Big Brother network CBS.

As we first reported May 10, CBS sued ABC and several producers for copyright and trade secret infringement, alleging Glass House is a “carbon copy” ripoff of Big Brother and is being produced by a team of 19 staffers who formerly worked on the long-running hit show.

CBS then filed court papers May 14 asking for limited fact-finding to support a planned motion for a preliminary injunction to stop development of the ABC series before its scheduled premiere on June 18. And now ABC has responded, offering its first detailed argument for why the case is bogus and the request for an expedited timetable for a preliminary injunction motion should be denied.

Calling the suit a “meritless attempt to shut down development of ABC’s newest reality television program,” the network claims it hasn’t even finalized rules or constructed a set, but it nonetheless lays out several alleged distinctions between the two shows: Unlike Big Brother, Glass House contestants will be able to see outside the house and interact with fans via social media, there will be no host (Julie Chen hosts Big Brother), and it will be team-oriented rather than the every-man-for-himself theme of Big Brother. For these reasons and others, ABC argues that the CBS copyright claim will fail. “Even CBS must realize it cannot copyright the idea of 14 contestants living in a house rigged with cameras,” the ABC court papers state.

On the trade secret violation claim, ABC argues that there’s nothing secret about a show that has aired on CBS since 2000 (and around the world via deals with creator Endemol) and that workers typically move around a lot in the unscripted TV business. “Employee mobility is the norm, not the exception in reality TV,” the ABC court papers argue. “Employees, who generally must be rehired each season, are often itinerant, going from series to series looking for a better opportunity.” That’s especially true at Big Brother, ABC argues, due to the show’s “low pay and 24 hour a day/7 days a week filming schedule.”

After arguing that Judge Margaret Morrow should deny the request for “expidited” discovery, ABC then sets out a proposed schedule that, if adopted by the court, would culminate in a hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction June 11.

CBS wants the judge to intervene immediately, and the network is requesting permission to obtain documents and deposition testimony from ABC relating to Glass House and several former Big Brother producers who are involved in making the new show. CBS says the requests are urgent.

“Because Glass House is now in the midst of production, the value to Defendants of CBS’ trade secrets and confidential information is at its highest, and those trade secrets are likely being disclosed on the production of Glass House every day,” the network argues. “CBS will suffer substantial and irreparable harm if these wrongs are allowed to continue, as compared to the limited burden that this discovery will place on Defendants.”

With Glass House set to premiere in less than a month, the clock is ticking. Will CBS successfully persuade the judge to stop the show in its tracks?

ABC is repped by Glenn Pomerantz and a team from Munger Tolles & Olson and Devin McRae of L.A’s Early Sullivan firm. CBS is repped by Scott Edelman and a team from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

Source: Matt Belloni, Hollywood Reporter, Esq.