Format recognition and protection association FRAPA has taken the unusual step of publicly commenting on its role in a format dispute, following the row between Ukrainian broadcasters 1+1 and TRK Ukraine. The storm over copyright piracy and plagiarism blew up last month and also involves TRK Ukraine’s international partners distributor Fremantle and Korean broadcaster MBC, the company behind hit format The Masked Singer.
At the centre of the allegations is 1+1’s localised version of Romanian format Mysteries in the Spotlight. The Ukrainian broadcaster is accused of having significantly altered its version, titled Maskarad (Masquerade), to resemble The Masked Singer, a charge it has refuted strongly.
Like The Masked Singer, Mysteries in the Spotlight is a costume-based competition format featuring celebrities and was singled out as one of the three most original formats of 2019 at last year’s NATPE Budapest. After 1+1 was outbid by TRK Ukraine for rights to The Masked Singer it turned to Mysteries in the Spotlight.
The Masked Singer distributor Fremantle referred the matter to FRAPA, subsequently releasing FRAPA’s headline findings.
“An independent analysis by FRAPA found 73% similarities between Maskarad and The Masked Singer. We are disappointed that 1+1 continued to broadcast Maskarad, which is not a genuine version of the Mysteries in the Spotlight format, and are discussing with our partners what action is appropriate,” Tony Stern, exec VP of commercial and business affairs of global entertainment at Fremantle, told C21 this week in a firm rebuttal of 1+1’s counterclaims.
Fremantle argues that while the Romanian show was sufficiently different to The Masked Singer to be unproblematic, the Ukrainian adaptation by 1+1 was changed to be more like the Korean format.
Almost all of the distinctive similarities between Maskarad and The Masked Singer identified by FRAPA were new elements introduced by 1+1 into its adaptation, while it had dropped elements from the original Mysteries in the Spotlight format that would have been points of difference, C21 understands.
The list of changes include making Maskarad less of a general talent show and more about singing, with digitally altered voices and with more of a narrative arc across the series rather than the self-contained episodes of Mysteries in the Spotlight.
Following recent press articles quoting the FRAPA report, the organisation is keen to stress it plays no role in commenting publicly on confidential client reports, FRAPA’s co-chairman Jan Salling told C21.
FRAPA was formed 20 years ago to provide a benchmark for best- practice, trust, mutual respect and transparency within the audiovisual formats industry, Salling said. It allows members to register their formats, report instances of suspected copycat or format theft and request unbiased assessments of their claims. The organisation also offers a mediation service to resolve disputes.
“The core of FRAPA for dear David Lyle, when he co-founded it, was that there was a body somewhere that was not biased, that was neutral and not influenced by commercial agendas or business opportunities or old boys’ networks, where the industry could go and get a just voice without bias,” said Salling.
Cases referred to FRAPA and advice being sought on potential format infringements have increased in the past five years.
Despite being a non-profit organisation, FRAPA supports a multibillion- dollar part of the audiovisual industry, fuelled by an unstoppable viewer appetite for local content. It is also the sector where disputes around piracy and plagiarism most frequently occur, which makes it crucial that neutral organisations like FRAPA exist, said Salling.
FRAPA’s methodology for assessing a dispute involves examining both generic (for example, the presence of a host) and distinctive format elements (such as celebrities guessing the identities of masked singers) in the two shows frame-by-frame and scoring them on their similarities. While 80% is the threshold for a red flag, anything over 50% begins to draw attention, said Salling.
The process is also thorough and rigorous and involves at least five people, all of whom are required to declare no financial or material connection with the formats in question, he explained.
FRAPA is keen to uphold its neutrality in the current row. One of the challenges is that neither Ukrainian broadcaster 1+1 nor TRK Ukraine have direct recourse to FRAPA, although TRK’s partner and the format’s distributor Fremantle does.
Current European Union financial rules prevent European organisations like FRAPA from ‘trading’ in so-called blacklisted countries, among them Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq, said Salling.
The organisation is currently exploring ways to “welcome everybody, also from these territories, because we support freedom of speech and we don’t want to exclude anyone,” he said.
One temporary measure being mooted is to waive the basic membership fee for those companies affected until EU rules change. In the 1+1/TRK case, this could allow FRAPA to mediate and potentially lead to an agreement between the two parties.
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