December 24, 2011 1:00pm PT by Matthew Belloni
ABC, Endemol Settle 'Wipeout' Copyright Lawsuit With Japanese Broadcaster
The three-year-old litigation over whether ABC's hit obstacle course competition Wipeout is too similar to several Japanese game shows is over.
Documents filed in federal court this week reveal that ABC and production company Endemol have settled a lawsuit filed in 2008 by Tokyo Broadcasting System that alleged Wipeout was a rip-off of several shows, including Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, Takeshi's Castle and Ninja Warrior. A trial was originally scheduled for late this year but was delayed. The court documents reveal the parties settled the case Nov. 30 during a mediation session with a federal judge. Terms of the settlement are private.
The Wipeout case caught Hollywood's attention because it raised the issue of what elements of a reality show are subject to copyright protection. Tokyo Broadcasting argued that Wipeout is built on the exact format and competitions featured in its popular shows, and that Endemol execs had specifically sought to copy those shows in creating an American version.
In court papers, on the other hand, ABC and Endemol argued that Tokyo Broadcasting System "remarkably claims copyright protection in obstacles and obstacle concepts ubiquitous in the public domain, such as 'rope swings,' 'mechanical bulls' and 'pole vaults.'" The network pointed out TV's long history of obstacle-course competitions, taking the position that Wipeout does not employ any unique (and thus copyrightable) expression.
Many in Hollywood legal circles had hoped that the case would go to trial, eventually providing some legal precedent for how much reality shows can copy one another without running afoul of copyright law. Now that question remains relatively unanswered.