HIGH COURT DISMISSES FORMAT RIGHTS CLAIM: MILES v ITV
The case law on formats and television programmes still
only amounts to a handful of decisions (see our Format Rights
early warning of January 2004). The recently reported case of
Miles v ITV Network Limited gives a further indication as to how
such issues will be dealt with. It concerned a dispute over the
rights to an ITV programme, Dream Street.
The claimant, James
Miles, appealed the decision of a Master who dismissed the claim
on the ground that it had no hope of succeeding. That decision
has been affirmed by Mr Justice Laddie. Miles alleged that in
1998 he supplied the ITV Network with promotional material for
his cartoon, Trusty and Friends. The main character was a traffic
light, and the ancillary characters were "traffic furniture"
such as bollards and cones.
The later ITV programme (Dream Street) had a recovery truck as
its main character and, as Miles conceded, the look and feel of
the two programmes were very different. Miles argued that there
was sufficient inference of copying for the matter to go to trial
because of similarities between the characters in the two programmes,
and the fact that they both featured traffic equipment. The creator
of Dream Street, however, produced evidence that designs for his
programme had been in existence since 1997, ie before Mr Miles
had sent his material to the ITV Network.
The judge dismissed
the appeal since, on the evidence, the only similarity between
Trusty and Friends and Dream Street was the use of anthropomorphised
traffic equipment, which meant the claim was "hopelessly
The judge agreed that
Miles had no arguable claim, and that there was "nowhere
near enough substance in this case to justify allowing these parties
to go to what may be an extremely expensive trial." In coming
to this decision, the judge bore in mind the fact that the claimant
had no resources with which to pay the defendant's costs should
he lose the trial.
The High Court is therefore
willing to take a robust view of claims over the rights in television
programmes at an early stage where they have no realistic prospects
of success. It also seems that where the defendants have no prospect
of recovering their costs against what is a very dubious claim,
this will weigh in the minds of judges in deciding whether summarily
to dismiss weak claims.