From Deadline|London editor Tim Adler: ITV is complaining that the ice-skating version of Dancing With the Stars that the BBC is planning with ABC is just a rip-off of Dancing On Ice over here. Media lawyers Wiggin have written to BBC Worldwide, the Beeb’s formats arm, complaining about the planned U.S. show. BBCW is producing an ice-dancing format for ABC that will pair six celebrities with professional skaters. Dancing With the Stars is called Strictly Come Dancing over here. The US show will premiere later this year. ITV’s already had talks with several US broadcasters, including ABC, about Dancing On Ice. It’s sold the format to 13 countries since 2006. There’s more than just TV show revenue at stake here. There are DVD box sets and national ice-skating tours. It’s become a real cash-cow for ITV. “The US is a very important market in terms of format sales,” my ITV source says. “It’s very important that we protect a format that’s ours.”

The BBC counters that it ran Strictly Ice Dancing as a one-off special back in 2004 – two years before ITV launched Dancing On Ice. It just never turned that one-off special into a series. “The fact that Dancing on Ice has done so well as a series is neither here nor there – it doesn’t give them any right to call the BBC’s ice show a rip off of theirs,” one former BBC executive tells me.

Andy Millmore, a partner at London lawyers Harbottle & Lewis, says it’s unlikely ITV would win if this goes to court. Copycat formats are notoriously difficult to prove. There’s no such thing as a format right. And nobody’s ever won a case accusing another producer of ripping off a show once it’s aired. Usually these cases are settled out of court. That’s what happened when Simon Fuller sued Simon Cowell five years ago for allegedly ripping off Pop Idol with his The X Factor. You have to prove there’s been some kind of copyright infringement or stolen trade secrets. And that’s very difficult to do once a show’s already been on TV. “To me it looks like a difficult one to prove,” Millmore tells me.

One way forward might be for both to work together with ABC. ITV Studios is making the German version of Strictly Come Dancing for the Beeb.

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