RDF Media Sues Fox Over ‘Wife Swap’

Dec 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

British television production company RDF Media in a lawsuit filed Wednesday charged that Fox Broadcasting Company and Rocket Science Laboratories copied RDF’s “Wife Swap” reality television series to create their own competing show, “Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy.”

The complaint, filed by Stanton Stein of law firm Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan charges Fox and Rocket Science, which jointly produce “Trading Spouses,” with both copyright and trade dress infringement, as well as unfair competition. It claims they attempted to capitalize on the success of RDF’s “Wife Swap” by developing a show – “Trading Spouses” – that incorporated all of the expressive elements and trade dress of “Wife Swap.” An American version of British show has aired on ABC since September. According to the lawsuit, Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of Fox Broadcasting’s parent company, News Corp., told Fox executives in 2003 that he had seen the British version of “Wife Swap” during a visit to London and that “it was the show everyone was talking about in the United Kingdom.” After discovering that ABC had acquired the U.S. rights to the show, the suit alleges, Fox and Rocket Science executives decided to copy its format and trade dress in order to “to confuse viewers and mislead them into watching ‘Trading Spouses’ rather than ‘Wife Swap U.S.'”

The suit argues that Fox’s “Trading Spouses” has a premise and format virtually identical to those of “Wife Swap,” including the cast of characters, the structure of each airing of a complete swap, the sequence of events, the plot, the tone, the theme, the pace, the scene set-ups and the narration.

In both “Wife Swap” and “Trading Spouses,” two wives with contrasting values and lifestyles exchange spouses and families for a period of seven and 10 days. During the first half of the trade, each wife must abide by the rules of the departing wife covering all aspects of household management, from chore delegation to budgeting, from food preparation to child discipline. During the second half of the trade, each wife imposes her own rules on her new household. At the end of the swap, the two wives meet for the first time and share what they have learned about themselves, their spouses, and each other during the swap.

Fox had no comment on the suit. ABC, which was not named in the suit, said in a statement, “We respect our producing partner’s right to protect their intellectual property in whatever manner they deem most appropriate.”