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Preserving Your Creative Rights: The Battle Between Two Similar TV Shows

By Blair Beven | Principal

Don’t throw the copy(right) out with the bathwater.

Under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) people have certain rights referred to as ‘copyright’. Copyright does not protect the ideas themselves, but rather how the ideas are expressed, for example the idea of a character is not protected but the drawing of a character is.

One of the rights protected under copyright is the right to reproduce and publish writings, music and art. Only the copyright owner has the right to do these things. Another right is the right to copy, screen or broadcast a film to the public.

Writers, filmmakers, and TV producers often ask about protecting their brainchildren in the vast world of scripts and pitches. In Australia, copyright law guards the material expression of ideas – literary, artistic, musical, or dramatic works. But, what happens when your unique idea faces imitation?

In one of the last cases of 2023, these principles were examined in Duncan v Australian Broadcasting Corporation [2023] [FCC].

Ms Duncan claimed the ABC infringed her copyright with her show ‘Buster the Brave Little Wooden Boat.’ She claimed, ‘Bubble Bath Bay,’ ABC’s 3D-animated kids’ show had eerie similarities. She pointed fingers at ABC for infringing on original concepts, character line-up, and more.

The ABC, however, denied infringement, contending that Duncan’s claims centred on unprotectable ideas, concepts, and themes.

They argued that the similarities were generic and stereotypical, consistent with a children’s story set in a harbour. The court, presided over by Judge Baird, ruled in favour of the ABC, highlighting the absence of copyright protection for ideas, themes, and concepts.

The judge emphasised that copyright infringement requires a substantial resemblance and a causal connection between the original and the alleged infringing work.

What are the main points to remember? Copyright doesn’t protect your “ideas” but how you express them. It allows for the independent creation of similar ideas without infringement.

If you are unsure about what your copyrights rights are? speak to us at XVII Degrees.

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