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EXCLUSIVE: Fox Sued Over Upcoming Celebrity Prank Show

A Fox reality project called My Parents Are Gonna Love You has triggered an international legal dispute.

The planned show features everyday singles bringing celebrity fiances to meet their parents -- as a prank.

It's being produced by Angel City Factory, whose principals previously made Joe Millionaire, Temptation Island and My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance for Fox. When the show was revealed last spring, it was said to have been based on a format from French company Banijay Entertainment, a reality giant that earlier this year acquired Bunim-Murray, producers of The Real World, Project Runway and other mega-successes.

Now, however, the Morabito Picture Company has stepped up claiming that the new show rips off a format from its Italian show entitled Indovina Chi Viene Cena (Guess Who's Coming for Dinner), which premiered in 2001. That show also features people bringing home celebrity boyfriends and girlfriends to their family's surprise.

According to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in California, Banijay first allegedly misappropriated the format with a French show entitled Mes Parents Vont T'Adorer! 

After the show became a success, Banijay allegedly licensed the format throughout the world, including in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Scandanavia, the Middle East, and the United States.

Unlike the French show, the coming U.S. production is said to be even closer to MPC's version by incorporating a contest element.

In My Parents Are Gonna Love You, contestants get more money the longer the "couple" can pull off the ruse. In Indovina Chi Viene Cena, the main contestant has to convince one of his relatives to write him a check so as to buy a special present for his celebrity mate. The French version doesn't appear to have a monetary component.

MPC claims in its lawsuit that Fox, Banijay, and Angel City Factory have committed copyright infringement and unfair competition by taking its format without permission or compensation.

Because there isn't a lot of law on how much new shows can incorporate from older international ones, MPC's legal action is likely to gain a lot of attention in entertainment law circles. Currently, ABC is waging a battle over whether its hit, Wipeout, was ripped from a Japanese show entitled Most Extreme Elimination Challenge. Reality format wars have become so hot that even WIPO, an agency of the United Nations, has been trying to figure out a mechanism by which these disputes can be resolved.

Reps from the defendants couldn't be reached immediately for comment.