Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Claiming Widespread Theft of Reality Show Ideas

Fox, NBC, and various top reality show producers beat a man alleging that the ideas behind many TV shows were lifted from his plan.
Michael Becker / FOX

An Australian man has failed to convince a federal judge that his marketing plan was stolen and became the basis for a number of top reality TV contest shows, including American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent.

The lawsuit was brought in New York by Paul Thayil, who said that in 1997, he created a marketing plan outlining concepts for two projects, "MusicFlow" and "ShyDancer." The projects contained many of the elements now commonly seen on reality competitions, such as multi-city tours, judges, "going to Hollywood," talent discovery and rounds of competition.

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Thayil says he handed the plan to the Australia newspaper The Herald Sun, then EMI Music and then Sony Music. The concepts were rejected.

Last year, Thayil brought a case that alleged a conspiracy in the entertainment world. Among the defendants were Fox, NBC, Sony, EMI, Simon Cowell, Idol creator Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe.

Besides standard allegations of copyright infringement, misappropriation of trade secrets and unfair competition, the plaintiff also attempted to bring a claim that the defendants had violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly used to go after mobsters.

U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin is not buying it.

In her order to dismiss the case with prejudice, she tosses the core claims because the plaintiff can't show that his marketing plan was copyrighted nor that any of his "generalized abstractions" were protectable. With no intellectual property at stake, the judge moves on to the question of the conspiracy claims, which she finds to be lacking any "factual allegations to support the contention that defendants entered into agreements, are employed with or associated with an enterprise, or for that matter that an enterprise even exists."

So, there you have it. All reality shows bear some resemblance to each other. But it's not because the entertainment industry is some sort of mafia that has ganged up to rip off the idea of the judge-and-contestants format. For now, that's the official word from the U.S. judicial branch.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner