BBC Sues Over 'Dancing With the Stars' Twist

Dancing with the Stars ABC Sept 15 - H 2014

Dancing with the Stars ABC Sept 15 - H 2014

British Broadcasting Company has decided that it's time for a courtroom tango, filing a complaint on Friday in California federal court against a company that allegedly has infringed rights to its popular Dancing With the Stars program and induced many of its dancers to breach contract.

The defendant in the lawsuit is Scott Stander & Associates, which is putting on a live show entitled "Ballroom With a Twist." The company's website tells dance fans, "Watching the cha-cha rattle on the television screen is one thing, but getting up close and live beneath the fringe, sequins, and booming sounds of Rumba bass is a whole other ballgame."

"Ballroom With a Twist" is choreographed by former DWTS dancer Louis Van Amstel and features appearances by professional dancers appearing on DWTS, So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol.

BBC and co-plaintiff DWTS Productions have a problem with the defendant's advertising, asserting that "Ballroom with a Twist" is written in the same color, font and design in promotional materials as DWTS. The plaintiffs have also flagged advertisements on the websites of theaters describing the show as "a non-competitive spinoff of Dancing with the Stars, featur[ing] sizzling performances by jaw-dropping ‘DWTS’ celebrity pros.”

The lawsuit alleges unfair competition and trademark claims, raising the theory that by using DWTS in this manner, Standler will be "likely to cause confusion among ordinary consumers as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or approval of the BWAT show, and to dilute the value of the DWTS Mark."

What takes this lawsuit that extra step is the note by plaintiffs that they have locked up contracts with all of its DWTS dancers including Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Emma Slater, Sharna Burgess, Peta Murgatroyd, and Jenna Johnson that guarantees, according to the complaint,  they "shall not not render services or appear in any other dance related program in any medium, or authorize the use of the DWTS Dancer’s name, voice, or likeness in connection with an endorsement for any such program."

California is known to frown on non-compete clauses, but that happens after termination. Here, Standler is said to have known about the DWTS dancer contracts because Van Amstel had executed one before he left the show in 2012.

"Despite knowing that each of the DWTS Dancers were under contract with DWTS Productions... SS&A nevertheless approached the DWTS Dancers and induced them to perform in and promote the BWAT show, thus breaching their agreements with DWTS Productions," states the complaint alleging tortious interference as one of its causes of action.

The lawsuit adds that as a result of "Ballroom With a Twist," the DWTS production company "has been denied the full benefit of its contracts" with dancers, giving as one example, "one or more of the DWTS Dancers being unavailable to fulfill their contractual obligation to perform in live stage performances produced by DWTS Productions."

Represented by attorneys at Glaser Weil Fink, BBC wants the defendant restrained from its allegedly bad actions. The lawsuit also demands unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Standler gave us this comment:

“We just received a copy of a complaint, and our attorneys are reviewing it.  Our show has been in existence for over five years now without any previous objection by DWTS, so it is quite surprising and very suspect that they are now suing us.  However, we are, and have been, just fair and open competition performing in live theatrical venues with different and unique entertainment elements in our show.  There are also several other live dancing show productions out there.  Our attorneys will respond in kind and protect what we have created and developed over the years and if necessary will file a counter lawsuit." 

This isn't the first lawsuit of this kind. Earlier this year, Sony Television was involved in a legal battle over a live Shark Tank tour that was to feature some of the investor "sharks" who appeared on the ABC program. The litigation was settled in the midst of trial.

Twitter: @eriqgardner