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Court Dismisses Idol Appeal - Broadcasting & Cable

Court Dismisses Idol Appeal

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American Idol may have put up the wrong numbers Tuesday, but its representatives apparently made the right arguments two weeks ago to a U.S. Appeals Court in Texas.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week refused to overturn a lower court's dismissal of a suit against Fox (station KRIV Houston) and the producers of American Idol for allegedly stealing the concept for the show.

The original suit was filed in May 2003, when Irvin, Tex., concert promoter Harry T. Keane charged that he had come up with the concept and even the name for American Idol in 1994 and had pitched it to Fox and eventual American Idol producer Fremantle, among others.

The district court dismissed the case in April 2004; Keane appealed; oral argument in the Fifth Circuit was March 7, with a decision in that court March 17.

The U.S. appeals court upheld it for the same reasons as the district court, which might be christened the "tough luck" grounds since they hinged not on Keane's failure to show that he came up with the concept, but for his failure to have taken steps to stake a legal claim to it before pitching it.

The courts found that his rights in an unregistered concept - he was claiming an implied contract - were unsupportable. In essence, because he did not make his pitch exclusively to Fremantle or expressly contingent on payment, no contract was breached by Fremantle and Fox's eventual use of a similar concept.

Keane's claim of trademark infringement for use of the American Idol named was equally unsupportable, the three-judge panel of the court found. Given that Keane had no commercial activity associated with his concept "sufficient to appropriate such rights," the contention that he was "first in time" to use the name did not entitle him to trademark protection, the court said.

Keane's claim of "trade secrets" fell as well, given that he had sent unsoliticed letters outlining his concent to various companies and had advertised it on the Internet. The secret, the court, was already out and by Keane's own doing.

Keane even had to pay attorneys fees since the court concluded he pursued the copyright claim when he knew none existed.

Keane's lawyer, Ryan Bormaster, called the decision an "arrow through the heart of American inegnuity and creativity."

Saying the ruling showed how little the justice system understands marketing TV shows, Borman added: "With this new ruling in place, independent producers who market and pitch their concepts and programs at NATPE are in serious trouble."

A Fox spokesperson declined to comment on the matter.

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