BBC Accuses Mediaset, Endemol and Televisa of Ripping Off 'Dancing With The Stars' Format

Adam Taylor/Warner Bros.

The case will be heard in Rome on Friday.

LONDON - BBC Worldwide, the licensing and commercial arm of the British broadcaster, is suing Italian broadcast group Mediaset, Endemol Italy and Televisa over what it believes is a rip-off of its hit format Dancing With The Stars. The case will be heard in Rome on Friday.

Worldwide, which has licensed Dancing to over 35 broadcasters internationally, believes that a Televisa format that has been produced by Endemol Italy for Mediaset's commercial channel Canale 5, infringes the copyright of its own hit format.

BBC Worldwide already licenses Dancing With The Stars to Mediaset's rival channel RAI, the state broadcaster, which has aired Bailando Con Le Stelle for the past six years.

The disputed show, titled called Baia! has yet to air in Italy, but is understood to be based on a Televisa format, Bailando Por Un Sueno (Dancing For A Dream) a raunchy dance competition show that has been on air  in South America.

BBC sources say that the Mediaset-produced version, produced for Canale 5 by Endemol Italy, can be blocked before it goes on air.

"BBC Worldwide takes the protection of its copyright extremely seriously and is currently undertaking legal action in Italy to protect its Dancing With The Stars format," the BBC said.

"It has been named as the world's most successful reality TV format and has been licensed to over 35 international broadcasters.

"It is very important to BBC Worldwide and its international licensees that the format is protected from infringement."

But Mediaset deputy chairman Pier Silvio Berlusconi, the son of the Italian Prime Minister, appeared to downplay the differences between the formats.

“It is a dancing talent show with the peculiarity of involving both celebrities and normal people. The dance talent show is a format that works on commercial television everywhere in the world. We certainly wouldn't claim that the only reality format is Big Brother," he said.

Format disputes are notoriously difficult to police through the courts, with many participants preferring to arbitrate out of court - such as the long dispute between the makers of Pop Idol (which later became American Idol) and Popstars.

However, by taking action in the Italian courts, the BBC is taking the high risk strategy of allowing a non-format specialist judge to potentially set an industry precedent.