New evidence not enough to alter original outcome, federal appeals court says

A federal appellate court has again ruled in favor of NBC Universal and producer Reveille against a woman’s claim that her idea for a weight-loss reality show was stolen and used as the basis for “The Biggest Loser.”

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals said that the woman, Sonya Latimore, had presented new evidence but that it “could not possibly alter the outcome of the case.”

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein had dismissed the case almost two years ago, ruling that there was a lack of “substantial similarity” between the two ideas. The 2nd Circuit noted further that it already concluded, in a decision last May, that while both ideas feature team-based competition, elimination and communal living, “the way in which ‘The Biggest Loser’ combines and supplements these common elements results in a concept and overall feel that is entirely different then Latimore’s proposal.”

Latimore’s treatment was called “Phat Farm/Fat Farm — A Weight Loss Adventure.” She claimed new evidence that one of the defendants, public relations executive Kim Fuller, had access to her treatment and also contacted NBC, based on telephone records. But the 2nd Circuit found that “the ‘new’ evidence that Latimore presents in this appeal pertains only to access and has no bearing on substantial similarity.” Defendants claimed that the new evidence didn’t even show what the nature of the phone calls were, or even if the project was discussed.

A handful of cases have been filed in recent years claiming theft of ideas for reality show projects, and observers in the entertainment legal community have watched closely to see where judges land when it comes to determining what is a non-copyrightable concept and a protected work. Last summer, CBS challenged ABC’s “The Glass House” as a ripoff of “Big Brother,” but a federal court rejected CBS’s effort to halt the airing of the ABC series.

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