Irishman Sues Dutch TV Firm Over 'The Voice'

     SANTA MONICA (CN) - A Dutch production company swiped the idea for the international hit TV show "The Voice" without giving its creator compensation or credit, the man claims in court.
     Michael Roy Barry, a citizen and resident of Ireland, sued Talpa Holding and affiliates, Talpa's owner John De Mol, and The Entertainment Group, a Dutch distributor that Talpa acquired in bankruptcy in 2009.
     Defendants include Talpa Media USA, the company's U.S. production arm, which is based in Los Angeles.
     Barry seeks damages for breach of contract and inducing breach of contract, in Superior Court.
     "The Voice" is a talent show for singers franchised in nearly 50 countries around the world in which judges cannot see the contestants during auditions. The audience can see contestants throughout the process, and the winner is picked by public vote.
     Barry claims that he came up with the idea for the show and then pitched it using the industry website tvwritersvault.com, which, agents and executives use to scout for concepts and scripts.
     "In or around June 2008, Barry conceived of a novel idea for a reality television series titled 'Voice of America,'" the lawsuit states. "The concept for the series was as follows:
     "a singing talent show,
     "where the judges cannot see you as they are behind screens,
     "where the contestants are judged solely on their voice (rather than on their appearance or other factors),
     "where the cameras and audience can see the singers
     "where the auditions will be held with the judges also behind a screen, and
     "the auditions and show will all be prerecorded allowing the public to phone vote."
     Barry claims he pitched the idea and materials for the show on the TV Writers' Vault, registered the domains Thevoiceofbritain.com and similar names, and registered his materials with the Writers Guild of America West and the U.S. Copyright Office.
     Everyone with access to the writers' vault must register and agree not to disclose any proprietary or confidential information, including ideas for shows pitched by writers. According to the website's terms of service, materials submitted are regarded as protected material, Barry states in the complaint.
     On March 16, 2009, The Entertainment Group (TEG) viewed Barry's pitch materials for The Voice of America, as evidenced by a Writer's Project Status Report on the website. However, TEG never contacted Barry about the show, according to the complaint.
     TEG went bankrupt that year and Talpa purchased the rights to TEG through bankruptcy proceedings in the Netherlands. In July and September of 2010, Talpa registered the domains voiceofholland.com, voiceofGermany.com, voiceofSpain.com, voiceofItaly.com and voiceofCanada.com. Talpa never approached Barry regarding any of his thevoiceofbritain domain names, according to the complaint.
     "On September 17, 2010, the television show The Voice of Holland premiered. Defendant John de Mol and Roel van Velzen, who was formerly under contract with TEG and then under contract with Talpa, are credited with creation of the show. Defendant Talpa Content is credited with development of the show," Barry says in the lawsuit.
     "Talpa then distributed purported rights to The Voice show concept across the globe.
     "Talpa distributed purported rights to NBC for The Voice of America, in December 2010. Talpa and NBC originally intended to call the show 'The Voice of America,' the precise name of the show pitched by Barry, but, upon information and belief, due to the pre-existing political organization, The Voice of America, the show was renamed simply The Voice and premiered in the United States on April 26, 2011."
     Barry claims The Voice franchise has spread to at least 49 countries.
     "However, defendants do not own the rights to The Voice franchise. The concept was stolen directly from the written materials Barry submitted to The TV Writers' Vault and owned by him," he says in the complaint.
     The fact that the franchise has the judges in spinning chairs with their backs to auditioners, while Barry's pitch for the show had the judges behind screens, "does not constitute a substantive change to Barry's work," he says in the law suit.
     Barry's lawyer, David Marek with Liddle & Robinson in New York, said in an email to Courthouse News that Barry "put the producers of the show on notice of his claims when he became aware of the show's premise."
     Barry seeks millions of dollars in lost profits, which he claims continue to mount.
     Talpa did not immediately return a request for comment.