Court refuses injunction in TV format copyright dispute between Seven’s My Kitchen Rules and Nine’s
On 31 July 2015, three days after Channel Nine aired the first episode of its new reality cooking show, The Hotplate, Channel Seven issued proceedings in the Federal Court seeking an interlocutory injunction to restrain Nine from airing the rest of the season of that show. Seven alleged The Hotplate infringed copyright in its show My Kitchen Rules (MKR).
At the hearing, Seven argued that Nine had copied the format of MKR by reproducing parts of Seven’s literary works related to the production of MKR (eg, MKR’s format pitch document, production bible, interview overview document and shooting guide) and parts of Seven’s dramatic works comprising several episodes of MKR (eg, the situations, events, scenes and plot of those episodes). After reluctantly viewing several episodes of MKR and The Hotplate, Justice Nicholas agreed there were some similarities between the two programs (although there was evidence that some elements of both shows were commonplace in many reality television programs) but noted one obvious difference – the contestants in MKR were amateurs whereas the contestants in The Hotplate were professional restaurateurs. In his Honour’s view, that difference arguably led to a different dramatic effect and, in the case of The Hotplate, was the centrepiece around which much of the program’s dialogue was constructed. Nevertheless, Justice Nicholas still found that Seven had a “reasonably arguable” but not a “strong” case that the formats were very similar. His Honour was also satisfied that it was open for Seven to argue that the close similarity was a result of copying, given his inference that Nine would have been familiar with MKR’s format when developing The Hotplate.
Despite this finding, Justice Nicholas refused to restrain Nine from airing the rest of the season, having determined that Nine was likely to suffer greater injustice than Seven if he were to grant the injunction. In particular, his Honour concluded that if he were to grant an injunction, Nine would need to change its programming schedule and, if the injunction were lifted if Nine succeeded at trial, Nine would need to re-establish momentum in The Hotplate by airing the first several episodes again or more episodes.
Although he refused to grant an injunction, Justice Nicholas suggested this case should be brought on for an expedited trial, which may be as early as later this year or early next year.