TV format and Copyright: The Supreme Court of Cassation pronounces again its judgement on the requirements of protection

The Supreme Court of Cassation has recently pronounced again its judgement concerning TV format of a program as an original work of authorship protected by Copyright, with judgement n.18633 of the 27th of last July.

As already known, TV format is not included in works under explicit legal provisions within the Italian Copyright Law, but recent line of decisions confirmed a progressive acknowledgement as an original work of authorship, thus defining requirements and limits of protection thereof.

The matter under the judgement of the Supreme Court in the present case concerned the ownership of rights on the TV format of program “Amore criminale”, focusing on the story of crime news about women killed by their partners, produced by R. P. S.r.l., on which another company who collaborated with the production of the format claimed the rights.

A legal proceeding arisen thereafter denied the claims of the second company both on first trial and on Appeal and on Appeal to the Supreme Court.

The judgement of the Supreme Court is interesting under two points.

First of all, in order to define whether a TV format can be included in intellectual property works protected by copyright, in the absence of a statutory definition, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that it is possible to apply the provision of official bulletin no. 66 of 1994 by SIAE: “the work must have, as main elements, sequence and thematic expressions, formed by a title, a plot or a basic narrative structure, a stage set and fixed characters, thus achieving an explanatory repeatable structure of the programme”.

According to such a provision, the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the importance of the expression of the idea characterizing the format as a programmatic structure owning a minimum degree of creative formulation, realized by the first characterization of at least the structural elements of the event – such as setting and background, main characters, their personality and the central theme of the story.

Therefore, the Court has defined its own concept of TV format, that is “a scheme of a programme, a plot, outlined in its main features, generally intended for a serial TV production, as a result of a concise description”.

Secondly, the Supreme Court has given its judgement on the procurement contract between the two parties and excluded the applicability of Art. 110 of the Copyright Law which requires written form ad probationem. The assignment of rights, borne by the customer, does not occur in the general contract as well as intellectual property contract, as in the absence of an assignment of rights, the written form is not necessary.

However, in this specific case, the decision of the Court of Appeal not to admit the testimonial evidence on the procurement contract has been considered legitimate, as no references to a procurement contract emerged by the requested evidences, so the outcome of the decision would not have changed.

This pronouncement confirms that a TV format must have enough expressive completeness, in addition to creative formulation, in order to be protected by copyright. As a matter of facts, the Court reaffirms the principle that copyright law does not protect mere ideas, but only the expressive form thereof.