Parody TV show dispute continues

In Eesti Rahvusringhääling v AS TV3 (Case 2-07-31897, October 12 2009), the Tallinn District Court has partially reversed a decision of the Harju County Court in a case involving a well-known children’s television programme.
In September 2007 the Harju County Court issued an injunction preventing AS TV3, a television channel, and Ken Saan, an alleged television producer, from broadcasting an adult parody of a children’s television programme, the Leopold show, which was produced and broadcast by Estonian Public Broadcasting (EPB) between 1982 and 1987 (for further details please see “Parody TV show broadcast blocked”).
On May 5 2008 the Harju County Court considered the main claim and ruled as follows:
  • The name of a TV show and the names of its characters are not used as trademarks. Therefore, the name of the children’s television programme at issue and the names of its characters could not be considered as well-known marks of EPB.
  • The format of the show was not protected by copyright due to the fact that:
    • there was little written description of the format; and
    • the format was not particularly original.
  • EPB owned copyright in the script, music and artwork of the show.
  • The show that TV3 intended to broadcast (entitled Leo Põld Tonight) was a parody of EPB’s Leopold show. Its broadcasting would not infringe EPB's copyright, as the references to the original work were justified.
EPB appealed. The Tallinn District Court reversed the decision of the lower court in part, holding as follows:
  • EPB does not have trademark rights in the names of the Leopold show or the names its characters, as they do not function as trademarks. Although the show and its characters are well known, their names cannot be protected as trademarks.
  • The first instance court's conclusion in respect of copyright was wrong because the court failed to examine which parts of the original show had been used in the parody. Therefore, the decision was not based on established facts.
  • The first instance court did not clarify whether the format of a television show cannot be protected by copyright in general, or whether the particular format of the Leopold show could not benefit from copyright protection due to the lack of original character.
  • The first instance court’s evaluation during the preliminary proceedings (including the comparison of the original work with the parody) was insufficient. The court should have asked the parties to submit further evidence.
The case has been remanded to the Harju County Court for further consideration.
Almar Sehver, AAA Legal Services, Estonia

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