BET must face copyright claim over 'House Party' web show

2 minute read

500 Pearl Street, home of Manhattan federal court. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

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  • Company says BET stole treatment for "House Party" show
  • Court says not enough evidence to decide copyright claim

(Reuters) - A Manhattan federal court said Monday that Paramount Global's Black Entertainment Television LLC has to face a copyright-infringement claim for allegedly ripping off another company's treatment to create its Instagram Live show "House Party."

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected Walkie Check Productions LLC's other claims against BET, but said it did not have enough information to determine whether the channel infringed the company's copyright.

Walkie Check's attorney was not available for comment. BET and its attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Walkie Check CEO Joshua Lebowitz and others pitched BET on their "House Party" in 2015, which they planned to set at a "raucous" party at a Manhattan brownstone with celebrity guests and musical performances. Talks to produce the show for the channel eventually broke down.

BET launched an Instagram Live show called "House Party" shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. The show had no overarching theme and included content that the court said ranged from "musical performances and DJ sets to master classes and lifestyle hacks." Its last episode streamed in January 2021.

Walkie Check sued last February for copyright infringement, breaching an implied contract and unjust enrichment.

District Judge Katherine Polk Failla said Monday that while Walkie Check's treatment proposal and BET's online show had "notable differences," the record was not complete enough to rule on Walkie Check's copyright claim. She noted that BET had only submitted a "fraction" of the total number of its "House Party" episodes to the court.

"Given the diversity and inconsistency among the episodes of BET's House Party, there exists the possibility — even if remote — that Defendants livestreamed an episode that was substantially similar to Plaintiff's work," Failla said.

Walkie Check has some copyright protection in the combination of creative choices that BET allegedly copied, Failla said, which include mobile livestreaming, a presentation that switches between selfie-style video and a traditional aspect ratio, an unscripted format and intimate viewer access.

Failla also said there was no implied contract between Walkie Check and the channel, and that Walkie Check's unjust-enrichment claim was preempted by federal copyright law.

The case is Walkie Check Productions LLC v. ViacomCBS Inc, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 1:21-cv-01214.

For Walkie Check: Kenneth Aldous of Aldous

For BET: Wook Hwang of Loeb & Loeb

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com