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No format right over Mary Berry cooking show

Channel 4 in a stew over BBC’s new programme

3 August 2017

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A new BBC cookery show fronted by Mary Berry and which bears similarities to The Great British Bake Off will not give rise to legal action, a commercial lawyer has explained.

Britain’s Best Cook, the new cookery competition from Auntie, will be shown over eight episodes with ten contestants cooking “the most perfect version of dishes that define modern British home cooking, as well as their special take on well-love classics”. Judge Berry will be joined by presenter Claudia Winkelman and a second, as yet unnamed, judge.

The show has reportedly been dubbed “The Great British Rip Off” by Channel 4 insiders, who told The Sun they have noted several similarities in format to The Great British Bake Off, which they acquired for £75m in 2016.

“The similarities between the formats haven’t gone unnoticed and those involved with Bake Off will be watching very closely for similarities when it comes to air.

“The idea of Berry judging amateur cooks each week, with some of the challenges even including puddings, sounds extremely familiar. People are calling it ‘The Great British Rip Off’.”

However, Mark O’Halloran, a partner and head of commercial services at Coffin Mew, has poured cold water on any possibility of legal action being taken by Channel 4.

“Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing in law as a ‘format right’. When we talk about format rights in a TV show, we mean a mix of copyright in script and characters, design right in sets, trademarks in the show’s name, and sometimes catchphrases, goodwill, and reputation.

“In some ways, the idea of format rights is a victory for lawyers’ imagination and a failure for producers’ originality. In others, it’s depressing evidence of the increasing homogenisation of television culture.”

O’Halloran said the general ingredients of a show may be pretty-well established but “producers can never be sure if they’ve caught that magic spark which makes for riveting TV”.

He added that it was “absurd… when the creator of one format thinks they have any claim to the general idea behind the show rather than the very specific elements of the show”.

“However, if someone else were to hire two family-friendly comedians to host a knock-out competition called ‘Cake Off’ with two well-known judges, one mean and one glamourous, and put them all in a big marquee? Well, then the lawyers might need to have a chat.”

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