BBC Facing Cosby Copyright Case
Carsey-Werner, the producer of the popular 1980s American television sitcom ‘The Cosby Show’, has brought a copyright case against the BBC. They have alleged copyright infringement for using several of their clips in a documentary on the television star Bill Cosby. The BBC documentary called ‘Bill Cosby: Fall of an American Icon’, discusses many of the sexual allegations brought against Cosby in previous years which have ruined the veteran comic’s reputation.
Earlier this month, the case was instigated in a California federal court against the BBC. A media company called Sugar Films Limited, based in London, were also involved in the dispute. It is assumed that they may have been involved in the supply and editing of the clips because of their specialties on integrating television content and digital production, though this has not been confirmed.
The infringing works in complaint are eight audiovisual clips and two music cues from The Cosby Show, which in total, have a running time of 234 seconds. This equates to 6.5% of the hour-long documentary. The eight audiovisual clips each vary in time from 7 to 23 seconds, except one that is nearly a minute long. Carsey-Werner were able to file a case on the basis that the clips put together amounted to nearly four minutes in total, complaining that the use of the clips was unlicensed.
‘Fall’ was first aired in June 2017, which was also the same time as Bill Cosby was on trial for raping Andrea Constand, alleged in 2004. A mis-trial was declared in that matter with the jury deadlocked on their decision. Casey-Werner said that they sent a warning to the BBC expressing that ‘Fall’ should not be rebroadcasted, yet this was ignored and the documentary was also made available online. Carsey-Werner complained that the clips used were unlicensed and therefore infringed copyright, potentially based on communicating and issuing copies of the work to the public.
The BBC is likely to say that its use of the clips amounted to fair use in the Bill Cosby scandal. Carsey-Werner should also probably be mindful of the potential negative publicity that may arise from seeking to enforce their rights in, and being further associated with, a figure as toxic as Mr Cosby has become to the general public.