'Cosby Show' Producer Sues BBC for Using Clips in Bill Cosby Doc

The Cosby Show Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Everett Collection

The Cosby Show Still - H 2015

About the only place one will find The Cosby Show these days on television is a program that discusses the many sexual assault allegations directed at its main star. But Carsey-Werner Company, the show's producer, insists it still has value and has now brought a lawsuit against BBC for allegedly using too much copyrighted material in a documentary titled Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon.

The lawsuit was launched in California federal court Friday against BBC and Sugar Films Limited.

According to the complaint, Fall "included 8 audiovisual clips (one of which appears 3 times in Fall) and 2 music cues from The Cosby Show. Carsey-Werner’s permission for such use of the Clips and the Cues was neither sought nor given. The total cumulative running time of the Infringed Works is 234 seconds, which represents 6.5% of the total running time of Fall."

Fall was first broadcast last June, around the time that Bill Cosby stood trial for allegedly raping Andrea Constand in 2004. The documentary was then made available online.

Carsey-Werner alleges defendants willfully infringed copyrights and points to how the clips were shown in Fall over a caption reading “The Cosby Show – Carsey-Werner Company/Bill Cosby.”

The plaintiff also says the day that Fall was broadcast, it sent a warning to BBC that the documentary shouldn't be rebroadcast, which it later was.

The case, if it proceeds, could have the parties debating whether use of the clips amounted to fair use within the context of the Bill Cosby scandal. The purpose and character of use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the amount of the portion taken, and the effect of the use on the potential market are the factors a judge would consider.

BBC and Sugar Films "sought to profit directly from the use of the copyrighted material without having to pay a license fee to Carsey-Werner by using the inherent entertainment value of The Cosby Show to entertain viewers," alleges the complaint being handled by attorney Alexander Rufus-Isaacs. "If they had wanted to draw The Cosby Show to viewers’ attention simply in order to create a reference point, Defendants could have done so without using copyrighted material. Instead, they deliberately used the Clips on 10 separate occasions, no doubt because they knew that showing such a large number of clips from this famous show would appeal to viewers. The Cues further seek to capitalize on The Cosby Show’s popularity."

We've reached out to BBC for comment and will add anything that comes.