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CBS vs. 'Glass House': Can ABC Really Be Stopped?

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Jun 06, 2012 | 12:40pm EDT

ABC The Glass House LogoGood news, potential Glass House fans. The house in which there should presumably be no stone-throwing is still set to grace our televisions on its original premiere date: June 18. ABC has yet to pull the series from its schedule under the weight of CBS’ copyright infringement lawsuit that claims The Glass House stole its concept from reality behemoth Big Brother.

According to a report from The Hollywood Reporter, CBS claims that the new ABC series, which also puts a set of strangers in a house together with 24-hour surveillance and the possibility of being named the last housemate standing, infringes on CBS’s intellectual property and that trade secrets, courtesy of the 19 former Big Brother employees working at Glass House, were used to create the series. 

But this is hardly the first time one reality series has taken the format of another and tweaked it to create a new show – if that were true, we wouldn’t be swimming in a sea of primetime singing competitions. So does CBS stand a chance of cracking this Glass House

“I would be surprised if CBS thought that this was going to be an easy one,” entertainment lawyer Neil J. Rosini tells Hollywood.com. After all, CBS is seeking retribution on two fronts – copyright infringement and trade secret theft – and proving those violations is no easy task in the incestuous realm of reality television.

Rosini says that the first task is to prove that the Big Brother format and its many facets are actually protectable. “The idea, the concept, of having cameras within a home, watching residents, has been around for a long time,” says Rosini. But what about the game show element of both series? Can CBS claim that Glass House stole Big Brother’s set-up? CBS faces an uphill battle in that the group/elimination format is so ubiquitous that it’s “difficult to monopolize and own.”

The trade secret element has to be stronger though, right? Glass House executive producer Kenny Rosen brought 19 former Big Brother employees on for his new series, but that doesn’t necessarily spell theft outright. “Much depends on whether trade secrets actually exist here – whether there are truly unique approaches to producing a program like this that no one would know apart from access to these employees,” says Rosini. 

And that’s the rub. “I don’t think it’s an easy hill to climb for CBS,” he adds. Many of “technical processes and systems” for capturing the series’ subjects and the “story producing processes” — items which CBS claims are trade secrets — are technically discernible by the viewing public as well as the crew working on a particular reality series. With tall orders like these, CBS has a lot of work to do if they’re going to prove that Glass House is in the wrong. In the meantime, neither CBS nor ABC are issuing statements on the matter. 

Unfortunately for CBS, history is not on the network’s side. CBS pursued legal action against Survivor lookalikes like ABC’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here and Fox’s Bootcamp, but Celebrity was given the go-ahead and Bootcamp was settled out of court. Plus, there are plenty of copycats that went off without a hitch or a legal complaint. The Bachelor alone has spawned enough dating shows to fill an entire Dating Show Network. (Did you hear that, OWN?) Even NBC’s smash hit The Voice has its own personal parody series, Fox’s chair-spinning dating show The Choice, but NBC isn’t making a peep about it.

For now, CBS will continue on its path to attempt to prove its case, but until the brand new reality competition airs, it will be extremely difficult to tell just how alike these two series are. But to that point, we offer up this thought: Would it really be so bad to enjoy a double dose of The Backstabbing-strangers-living-in-a-ridiculous-house Surveillance Show? The more the merrier malicious-er!

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.

[Image: ABC]

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