The format of a program can be protected but only if…

The Court of Rome faces again the topic of the conditions and the limits of protection that can be granted to a television program.

This is a very argued topic that creates doubts because of the lack of a positive rule governing the matter.

It has to be said that normally the law recognizes the format a protection pursuing law on copyright only if recurring precise conditions.

First of all a format, that could be defined as the structure-base of a television program, is protectable only if it has enough elements of originality and creativity. Secondly, the object of the protection is never the choice of the event or of the theme of the transmission, but the elaboration made by the author of a specific theme through the definition of some features characterizing precisely the program.

Briefly, one should not protect the idea of realizing a certain program but only the program that has a precise structure and a precise sequence of phases and events.

In the case at hand, a person claimed to be the author of a TV program aired on the RAI channels and to which he participated as main character. At the basis of his right, a format filed by the SIAE where it was indicated only the theme of the program – which by the way was deemed not original – without specifying in details the structure and the plot outline.

The Court of Rome restated that “in lack of a definition of the concept of format, that is the so-called idea at the basis of a TV program as model to be repeated by other channels or in other occasions, one should refer to the SIAE Bulletin no. 66 of 1994 according to which the work, to be protectable, need to show as qualifying features sequential and thematic characteristics such as a title, a plot outline or a basic narrative structure, a scenic apparatus and standard characters, thus realizing a repeatable explanatory structure of the program”.

In the case at hand, the text of the work filed before the SIAE was so excessively brief to be defined at an embryonic stage. For this reason a protection would have been impossible.

Moreover, the actor that now asks for a reimbursement has been the main character of the program for some years without asking for nothing and without having provided any proof regarding an agreement on the payment.

The Court has then confirmed another important principle, that is that “the decision of the payment is not an essential element to the contract of the professional work as hoped by the actor since there isn’t any presumption of payment, not even iuris tantum, and not being possible to exclude that in this case the gratuity of the performances was justified by the fact that X (…) would have certainly been able to benefit from the visibility and the return of advertising of his professional image”.

On the basis of the above considerations, the Court of Rome rejected the request and sentenced the actor to pay the costs of the proceeding (judgement 19116/17).