SW Legal studies in Business

Television Program Idea Not Subject to Copyright Protection

The creator of an idea for a television program that a competitor developed had no cause of action for copyright infringement. The general idea of the program is not protected, only the details of actual programs.

Topic Intellectual Property
Key Words

Copyright; Ideas; Expression; Television Show

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Milano worked for Twentieth Television. She developed the concept for a reality television series called “From Fat to Phat,” which had contestants losing weight. A number of people knew of the idea. Twentieth decided not to pursue it. Later, NBC announced a new show, “The Biggest Loser,” which is the same idea. Milano sued NBC, Twentieth, and others for infringement of her copyrighted “treatments” for the program and for misappropriation of her ideas. Defendants moved for summary judgment.


Motions granted. The treatment for the television show is not protectable under copyright law. Copyright law does not protect ideas, but the expression of those ideas. Elements of expression that are not protectable include general plots and ideas for scenes that flow naturally from unprotected basic plot idea. Those are common property. Specific details of the ideas for actual programs, such as dialogue, themes, setting, characters, and such would be protected. Milano’s idea of people competing to lose weight for prizes is not subject to copyright protection.

Citation Milano v. NBC Universal, ---F.Supp.2d--- (2008 WL 4610222, C.D. Calif., 2008)

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