July 20, 2011 4:15pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Appeals Court Backs 'Bingo' TV Producer in Stolen-Idea Case
A would-be game-show producer won't be taking home any prizes for ABC's National Bingo Night and GSN's Bingo America. An appeals court has affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit that was predicated on a man's attempt to pitch the concept to a TV executive at a Hollywood conference.
Recently, we've noted that writers who think their ideas for TV shows and movies have been stolen by studios are smartly asserting breaches of implied contracts instead of straight copyright infringement. Recent appellate decisions have been warm to the notion that if a studio agrees to hear a writer's idea, that studio might have entered into an implied contract to pay for use of the idea, if executed. The claim is easier to prove than copyright infringement, which has high hurdles for demonstrating "substantial similarity."
But that doesn't mean that just anybody who speaks to a TV executive about a show idea has a winsome claim.
Take Mike Ousley, who spent eight years and approximately $100,000 working on an idea about how to make bingo on television work. Ousley's efforts included purchasing a bingo machine and making a pilot. Still, it's not easy to get a show on TV.
To make it happen, Ousley attended a conference sponsored by the National Association of Television Program Executives, which advertised itself in brouchures this way: "BE SEEN -- BE HEARD -- BE CAPTAIN OF YOUR TELEVISION FUTURE"
The keynote speaker at the NATPE conference was Stuart Krasnow, producer of Average Joe, who mentioned during his speech that he was always looking for projects and ideas. After Krasnow was finished, he was buttonholed for five minutes by Ousley, who described his bingo idea. Krasnow took Ousley's written treatment and said he'd be in touch.
A year late, Krasnow got on a plane for Hawaii, where he was shooting a season of Average Joe. On the flight was Andrew Glassman, another TV executive and an acquaintance of Krasnow. According to a court's findings, Ousley's materials were never given to Glassman, but a few years after that, when Glassman created and executive produced bingo shows for ABC and GSN, Ousley sued.
This doesn't end well for Ousley, who was obviously disappointed to see bingo shows on television without his involvement or compensation. As many people might do, Ousley went to a lawyer and a complaint was brought against ABC, GSN, Glassman and Krasnow.
A lower court judge knocked the suit out at summary judgment. On appeal, this time against Krasnow alone, Ousley contended that evidence raised genuine issues of material fact as to the existence of an implied-in-fact contract predicated on a mutual understanding of confidentiality between Ousley and Krasnow.
On Monday, the appeals court couldn't find such confidentiality, however.
To quote the California Supreme Court 's seminal case (Desny v. Wilder) that underpinned the latest decision, a "man who blurts out his idea without having first made his bargain has no one but himself to blame for the loss of his bargaining power."