Stakes rise in battle for right to broadcast game show

Graham Ball reports on a furious legal row over the copyright of a TV hunk contest
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The Independent Online
THE biggest game show in Britain is being played out behind the scenes - and the stakes are rising. Two of Britain's largest media companies, Pearson TV and Granada, are locked in a legal battle over who really owns the rights to a show where male contestants are judged by an audience of excitable women.

Now, programme-makers and lawyers are predicting more such disputes on a global scale. There are copyright laws for books, records, films and plays - but none, it seems, for game shows. Worse, the British are likely to be the losers. Our game shows, according to Nigel Griffiths, Labour's spokesman on consumer affairs, are the best in the world. And the Government has once more sold Britain short. "With the growth of world television markets, it has provided a licence to steal British ideas," Mr Griffiths said.

Mr Griffiths wants the law changed. Medwin Jones, a leading media lawyer, of Harbottle and Lewis, agrees.

"Up until now," he says, "the major broadcasters have been operating what amounts to a gentlemen's agreement not to poach each other's shows. I believe there should be a central register of ideas rather as there is with trademarks."

So does Richard Bridge, another lawyer. "As things stand any company could take the format or basic ideas from any quiz or game show, use them in their own version of the show, and no one can stop them. In the past, TV companies were in general run by gentlemen, and gentlemanly behaviour was the order of the day. Today the landscape has totally changed."

The present law was established after a case involving Hughie Green, once the most famous game-show host in Britain. He created and presented Opportunity Knocks on British TV and then, to his amazement, received a tax demand for earnings from the show in New Zealand.

"It was the first I'd heard of Opportunity Knocks being produced in New Zealand," he recalled. "I quickly discovered, however, that it had been running for four successful seasons over there and that they were not prepared to pay me a single penny in royalties.

"I simply couldn't believe that they could get away with it. It was, in my opinion, outright theft. They not only pinched the title, they took the whole format of the show right down to the 'clapometer' and my catchphrase 'it's make your mind up time'."

Mr Green, now 75, took his case to the House of Lords and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, at a cost of nearly pounds 250,000. He lost. The law lords judged it was impossible to "format" a quiz or game show and that the protection of the copyright laws did not apply.

Now the issue has come back to the courts, with Pearson claiming that Granada's "adult" late-night show called God's Gift is an unauthorised version of its show called Man O Man. The company has successfully applied for an injunction to restrain Granada from making any moreshows and from infringing their rights to the Man O Man format.