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Using real tv shows / movies in fiction

Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2021 9:12 pm
by MrPunch
Hello again!
Speculative question here regarding recreating existing tv shows as part of a fictional story.
I am working on a fiction novel. In the story, the main character has appeared on tv shows and movies over his lifetime. My question: can I write scenes in a fictional episode of say Wogan (chat show) or Bullseye (game show) or Colombo (us cop show) or Carry On Camping ( British cinema) ?
Do any of these scenarios require clearance or approvals from the parties concerned? If so, is the route of portraying analogous shows that are called something else but recognisably similar, feasible?

Re: Using real tv shows / movies in fiction

Posted: Mon Feb 08, 2021 10:31 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Mr Punch,

Assuming that you don't intend to use any real dialogue from the actual shows and don't defame any living person, there shouldn't be an issue with what you want to do. The courts have in the past found that the format of certain elements of highly structured programmes such as games shows can be protected by copyright, but there is no general prohibition on setting a fictitious scene within the context of a real TV programme. The US courts tend to take a more expansive approach to what constitutes these protectable elements than the UK courts, so if you intend to use the Columbo example, I would make sure you apply a very light touch to avoid upsetting the show's makers, NBC Universal Television. I don't think there is any real prospect of them succeeding in bringing an action against you, but they might tie you up in tedious correspondence with their lawyers.

There are a number of high profile US cases which exemplify the attitude the courts there can sometimes take over formats, characterisation etc, so if you want a taste, take at look at these as examples of how trivial it can get: Silverman v CBS Inc, DC Comics v Mark Towle, Conan Doyle Estate v Miramax

Re: Using real tv shows / movies in fiction

Posted: Tue Feb 09, 2021 9:08 am
by MrPunch
That's great, thanks!

You are correct, I did not intend to use any existing actual scenes or dialogue from any show, but create new scenes in fictitious episodes, so to speak. I admit Columbo was a bit of a stretch, but your answer is very helpful. Cheers.

Re: Using real tv shows / movies in fiction

Posted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 5:38 pm
by MrPunch
Thanks for all your help thus far - I have a follow up question on the comment "and don't defame any living person"

Where do I stand on using actual stars of yesteryear as characters in a novel? To be clear - they would all be dead by now, no living stars - say, Bernard Manning, Ken Dodd, Spike MIlligan, Laurel and Hardy (American, do different rules apply here?) etc. There would be no deliberate attempt to belittle or damage their reputations, but they would be saying things they'd never said in entirely fictional circumstances. Do estates exist to protect stars from such use, or is that just for works of fiction?

And on the same note - if the dead star had a recognisable catch phrase would that be copyrighted?

Re: Using real tv shows / movies in fiction

Posted: Mon Feb 15, 2021 11:49 pm
by AndyJ
Hi Mr Punch,

The dead can't be defamed, either here or in the USA. You are right that in the USA some states have so-called Publicity Rights laws which can protect certain personal characteristics for up to 70 years after a person's death.The most comprehensive of these is probably the Californian Celebrity Rights Act, but even that Act doesn't prevent mentioning such celebrities in works of fiction, or non-fiction for that matter.
Catch phrases are much more difficult to give you hard and fast rules. The UK courts have been slow to acknowledge a catch phrase as something worthy of copyright, usually they are too short. Furthermore now that we have the quotation exception (section 30(1ZA)) in UK law I think that could be used to cover the use of a catch phrase, providing that the words are spoken by the character whose catch phrase it was, so as to fulfil the requirement for a credit. In the US there's a mixed picture, with some Districts strongly supporting protection for things like comedian's jokes and catch phrases, while others take a similar view to the UK. I think that if you wanted to have Stan Laurel say "That's another fine mess ..." then you are probably reasonably safe.