Format of an Online Contest and Copyright

There are many rulings concerning the protection of a format at Italian level.

In particular, the Court of Rome, with an important ruling of 2017 decided that a TV format needs to have an original creative core having novelty and must be connotated by expressive completeness in order to be protected by copyright.

Moreover, it must present the essential elements such as title, basic narrative structure, stage set and fixed characters. Lastly, it must have sufficiently specific formal features, that is immediately implementable, without the need of additional integrations at a general level but only the ones necessary to the complete realization of the program at hand.

The above-described protection concerns peacefully also electronic format, regardless of the obvious existing differences between the television and the informatic medium.

The protection of a format of an online contest: a case study

The Court of Turin, with the decision of October 11 2023, decided on an issue relating to the protection accorded to a format of an online contest, available as app.

The plaintiff, “Alfa”, asked the Judge of Turin for the determination of the plagiaris, allegedly carried out by the defendant, the soccer company BetaX, in relation to a product called “XY”, that is an application concerning an online contest, qualifiable as a prize contest related to soccer developed by the plaintiff. In particular, the latter considered that the format used inside the application was protected as a work of ingenuity by the Italian Copyright Law.

Alfa complained about the unfair and anti-competition conduct of the defendant with regards to the imitation of the product XY through the development by the defendant of a product considered similar, called XFC.

On the other hand, BetaX contested the infringement of its trademarks, registered in particular to distinguish computer games, audio games, CD-ROM games, since the plaintiff had used the plaintiff’s distinctive sign “X” to identify the application XY. The defendant, however, denied any similarity between the two products compared.

Finally, the plaintiff was challenged for lacking the requirements of novelty, creativity and completeness of expression in relation to the format of the XY application, necessary in order to be able to benefit from the protections reserved to ingenuity works.

The decision of the Court

The Court stated that, theoretically, authorial protection can be recognized even to format of an online contest.

Nevertheless, from the investigation on the effective protectability of the application developed by the plaintiff, the Court of Turin found that the relevant burden of proof had not been met.

In particular, even though, creativity cannot be excluded only because a work consists in ideas and simple notions, as also stated by the plaintiff, in the case under exam the Court found that the plaintiff had not met its burden of fully demonstrating the constituent element of creative character, necessary to recognize to the application XY the protection reserved to ingenuity works.

In light of what above mentioned, the Court of Turin integrally rejected for lack of proof the plaintiff’s request to recognize the format as work of ingenuity and, consequently, rejected also the correlated request for the determination of the defendant’s alleged unlawful conduct.


Elena Bandinelli