The striking similarities between ABC‘s recently announced summer reality series The Glass House and CBS‘ veteran Big Brother were not lost on CBS brass. Four days after ABC’ announcement, CBS has fired a legal letter to ABC warning them that proceeding with the show will likely result in a legal action against it. (you can read the letter here.) Per ABC’s description, Glass House, executive produced by former Big Brother producer Kenny Rosen, features 14 contestants living and competing for a quarter million dollars in a wired, state-of-the-art house. “Given their behavior in this matter, we assume ABC will have no problem when we announce plans for our upcoming new series Dancin’ Wid Da Stars,” a CBS insider commented.
In the letter to Disney-ABC TV Group president Anne Sweeney and Walt Disney Co.’s General Counsel Alan Braverman, CBS’ outside counselor Scott A. Edelman notes the “striking” similarities between the two shows — one (Big Brother) based on a 1999 Dutch format and one (Glass House) billed as original — which he claims are “establishing a classic case of copyright infringement”. He also contends that the ABC series “is produced by a team of at least 18 former members of CBS’ Big Brother production stuff — all of whom were privy to trade secrets and other confidential, proprietary information and signed broad and binding non-disclosure agreements in connection with Big Brother.” Named in the document are Rosen; ABC’s VP Alternative Programming Corie Henson, also a former Big Brother producer; and Mike O’Sullivan, who served as supervising producer on Big Brother for at least eight years and is now involved in the production of Glass House. “We believe that it is impossible for the signatories of the Big Brother non-disclosure agreements to develop and produce a show as similar as Glass House without breaching their contractual obligations by disclosing or utilizing protected information,” the letter contends. Rosen, Henson and O’Sullivan, who all signed non-disclosure agreements when working on Big Brother, have received separate warning letters from CBS today.
The letters are designed to serve as a deterrent as they stops short of initiating legal action. “In the strongest possible terms, we must admonish ABC and anyone in the development or production of Glass House that they will be acting at their own peril if they continue to proceed in this manner, and that CBS has instructed us to pursue all available remedies if this course of conduct continues,” Edelman’s letter to ABC said. The letter hints at those potential remedies by listing the legal violations it could go after ABC for if the network proceeds with Glass House. “We hereby put ABC on notice that its continued development and production of Glass House exposes ABC to liability, including damages and injunctive relief, for violation of the Copyright Act, including breach of non-disclosure agreements and misappropriation of trade secrets,” the letter said.
Winning a pure copyright lawsuit in reality TV has proved almost impossible as evidenced by CBS’ own experience in another legal battle with ABC over ABC’s Survivor clone I’m A Celebrity … Get Me Out Of Here!. CBS lost the 2003 effort to block the ABC series from airing. (The I’m a Celebrity format was later picked up by NBC but fizzled in both of its U.S. incarnations.) However, the case over Glass House is more complex as it also involves alleged non-disclosure agreement and trade secrets violations.