Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

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Law & Economics Working Papers


Television is only as strong as its programming. The use of program formats has slowly but surely developed into an important component of the television industry. This paper examines the surprising gap between the constantly growing, multi-billion-dollar trade of program formats and their unclear and contradictory legal treatment. Using an interdisciplinary approach, I look at the characteristics of both the product at hand and the markets it serves to examine possible justification for legal protection. I argue that the use of the term "TV format" is misleading and that a clear separation between the unpublished and published stages of the format creation process is necessary. Next, I show that contract law and internal industry mechanisms create an overall efficient, unpublished format market where no additional legal protection is needed. In the international trade market of published program formats, however, I conclude that a clearer legal approach offering better protection is justified.



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