November 01, 2011 7:50pm PT by Eriq Gardner
BET Sued Over 'Rogue' Telecast of African American Music Festival
TV One is accusing BET Network and MTV of hijacking its exclusive rights to the Essence Music Festival, featuring performances by Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige and others. The ambush is alleged to have happened this summer, and now TV One is taking its competitors to federal court for airing an unauthorized "rogue" broadcast of its show.
In claims made on Friday, TV One details the great expense it allegedly made to secure rights to the Essence Music Festival, an annual event focused on African American music and culture that attracts hundreds of thousands of people each year.
For television rights, TV One says it spent $500,000 in 2010 and $750,000 in 2011. In addition, the network says it spent up to $1.5 million to produce the show.
In late June, just a week before TV One was scheduled to air the 2011 Essence Music Festival, BET televised performances from the previous year. The airing is said to not only have interfered with promoting its coming telecast, but also to have constituted an infringement of its broadcast from the previous year.
BET is claimed to have taken TV One's 2010 show nearly verbatim except replacing its competitor's logo with its own. Nevertheless, the BET broadcast contained credits listing the TV One mark and several of its employees, indicating its origin.
TV One says under its contract, it held exclusive rights to exhibit and broadcast the 2010 show until August 29, 2014. In addition, the agreement is said to have barred Essence Productions, the licensor, from allowing other networks targeting African American audiences to exhibit its show.
Despite the contractual restrictions, co-defendant Music World Music, an entertainment company that has partnered with Essence and represents such artists as Beyonce, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, allegedly provided the 2010 TV One program to another company, which then provided it to BET, MTV, and BET's Centric Network.
A number of cease-and-desist letters were sent in late June, but TV One says the infringement of its exclusive rights caused irreparable harm, devaluing its programs, undercutting its agreements, damaging relationships with advertisers, endangering its relationship with the public, and unjustly enriching the defendants.
TV One is now asking for injunctive relief and damages for copyright infringement, tortious interference, and further violations of California business code. The network, partly owned by Comcast, is being represented by Thaddeus Stauber at Nixon Peabody.