This article will explore the applicability of the Copyright Act to reality television formats and the potential ramifications of identifying such formats as protectable expression. This comment will argue that formats are not the expressive element of a reality television program and, therefore, that granting copyright protection is improper.
Part II introduces the concept of the idea-expression dichotomy, presents the legal standards for copyright infringement claims, and discusses the topic of formats within the framework of copyright law. Part III examines the recent legal battles involving reality television programs and infringement suits. This section emphasizes a general unwillingness of courts to enjoin the production of copycat programs based on a claim for infringement of format, and then addresses the networks’ response in terms of resorting to alternate means for resolving format disputes. Part IV navigates the policy rationale for eliminating copyright protection of reality formats and suggests that this approach will likely incentivize, rather than discourage, the creation of new content. Finally, this comment will conclude by suggesting that producers and networks already receive appropriate legal protection in the form of copyright for their expressive works – i.e. the specific reality television programs they create.