Endemol survives plagiarism case

AMSTERDAM — After five years of litigation, the Dutch Supreme Court has let stand an appeals court ruling that the Endemol format “Big Brother” is not a copy of “Survivor.”

Both were among the early crop of reality formats out of Europe — “Survivor” was first produced in Sweden in 1997, “Big Brother” in Holland in 1999.

U.K.-based production company Castaway filed a lawsuit in the Netherlands against Endemol in late 1999, charging founder and then-chief exec John de Mol of stealing the “Big Brother” concept from “Survivor.”

In 2002 an appeals court said there was no substantial similarity between the two. The decision broke ground legally, noted Christoph Fey, managing director of the Format Recognition and Protection Assn., an international body of format makers.

“At the time, most courts were simply saying that TV formats were not protectible,” Frey said. “In this case, the Court of Appeals broke ground because it ruled that TV formats can be creative works protected by copyright.”

De Mol, who is exiting Endemol at the end of this month, called last week’s legal outcome “a no-brainer since I can easily explain that there’s more resemblance between ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ “

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