June 18, 2012

This Monday, June 18, a show called The Glass House will debut on ABC at 10:00. It’s described on ABC’s website as follows:

“When the show begins, fourteen people are living in a house together, participating in challenges - with America making the decisions about what happens in the house. Each week there will be somebody eliminated from the house. The winner is the last person left in the house - as voted on by you, the public!”

If you think that premise founds eerily similar to the CBS show Big Brother, than congrats! You’re not the only one…

According the Deadline, CBS has alleged that not only is The Glass House a blatant rip-off of Big Brother, but CBS is suing the producers of The Glass House, ABC, and The Walt Disney Company for copyright infringement, trade-secret misappropriation, unfair competition, breach of contract, conspiracy, and various other claims. I have to admit, when I first saw the ads for The Glass House and heard the claims made by CBS, I shrugged it off. I mean, come on, they ALL copy each other. It doesn’t make it right (in fact, it’s wrong and more than a little lazy), but is it worth suing over?

Then came the admissions. Of its 50-ish employees, over half of them previously worked on Big Brother. Well, maybe that is a coincidence. The executive producer/showrunner for The Glass House, Kenny Rosen, was a producer at Big Brother. Hmmm, that one is a little tricky. Mr. Rosen admitting during a deposition to taking a copy of the Big Brother Guest Manual and having it typed up separately as a part of a Glass House manual…Annnndddd…breach of contract.

Confidentiality clauses and non-disclosure agreements are incredibly prevalent in the entertainment industry for exactly this reason. If you don’t think that everyone from the showrunner down to the PA intern or craft service worker doesn’t sign one of these with most every project, then you’re kidding yourself. Writers and show creators can only claim ownership of their ideas. It’s not something you can hold in your hand. It’s intangible. For this reason, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements are all that stand in the way of constant idea theft. It’s one thing to see a successful show, take for instance, a singing competition with three judges and a contestant going home each week, and mold it into a version of the original with your own spin. This is quite common. It’s another thing altogether to copy the manual from the original show, hire nearly the same crew, delete various forms of communication about said crew and manuals, and claim that this is somehow ok.

CBS has attempted to remedy the situation for several weeks. It fired a shot across ABC’s bow, writing a letter explaining that should they continue with production of The Glass House, CBS would have no choice but to pursue legal action. When ABC ignored this and went ahead with production, casting the show and pouring over $18 million dollars of advertising into it, CBS went ahead with the suit.

The problem for CBS is the timeframe. ABC has already moved its contestants into the Glass House and is planning to go ahead with its original airdate of June 18. CBS has fired back, maintaining that should ABC be allowed to air the show, it is, in essence, too late. For its part, CBS has filed a temporary restraining order to try and delay the airdate until the matter can be resolved. A judge is expected to rule on the TRO today, at the earliest, although Deadline has reported that a judge in the matter is “not inclined” to side with CBS as he thinks that there is not enough compelling evidence to shut The Glass House down.

Whatever the outcome may be, it is hard to prove you own an idea. Maybe that’s why there are so many reboots and revamps in the works. But I think that if the courts don’t start holding intellectual property in a higher regard, we’re going to be doomed to watching the same set of movies and television shows every ten years. Have we not learned our lesson, or am I the only one who saw Saved By The Bell: The New Class

Ashley Sims is a comedy writer and blogger from Atlanta, currently living in Brooklyn. She watches way too much TV and writes to support her brunch addiction. Follow her on twitter @ashsims


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