Intellectual Property

Is Your Favorite Talent Competition a Product of Infringement? Recent Pro Se Complaint Claims Creation of American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, and America’s Got Talent

It's one for the ages. Could television's greatest talent competitions all be the product of infringement? One man asserts they are.

In July, Australian Paul Thayil filed a pro se complaint in the Southern District of New York, accusing various defendants (Including Fox, Simon Cowell, and NBC) of copyright infringement and illegal use of a trade secret.

Thayil alleges that in 1997, his "Marketing Plan" was provided to defendants as a trade secret for their evaluation and a possible business venture. Specifically, he claims that defendants received the Marketing Plan either directly through Australia SONY or indirectly through EMI Music London.

The Marketing Plan was rejected, but according to Thayil:

The Defendants used the ideas, data, information, direction and strategy outlined in the said Marketing Plan to develop, produce and broadcast four (4) television shows in the United States, Australia and Britain. The four (4) television shows contained in Plaintiff's Marketing Plan that were shared with Defendants in early 1997 were entitled -

a.)    American Idol

b.)    Dancing with the Stars

c.)    So You Think You Can Dance

d.)    America's Got Talent

Thayil goes on to allege that Simon Cowell attended investors' meetings to generate funds for the shows and, in doing so, followed the Marketing Plan. Thayil then points to his Marketing Plan for the following concepts:

  • using judges;
  • the creation of a center stage in New York to link Hollywood and Los Angeles;
  • inviting musicians to take part in television shows;
  • the world idea of the world idol;
  • linking with major USA companies;
  • musicians saying on-camera that they are going to Hollywood; and
  • discovering new singing talent that could be signed to record labels.

In addition, Thayil claims over 45 other detailed matches between his Marketing Plan and defendants' actions.

View or download the complaint filed in Thayil v. Fox & Simon Cowell, et al., 11-04791 (S.D.N.Y. July 12 2011)

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