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TV One Claims BET Swiped its Show

LOS ANGELES (CN) - TV One claims its competitor BET Networks broadcast its trademarked documentary "TV One Night Only: Live from the Essence Music Festival" without permission, while fully aware of TV One's exclusive licensing agreement with the festival's producers.

TV One sued BET Networks, Black Entertainment Relevision LLC, MTV Networks, distributing company Northstar Media, its president Pat McDonald, and Music World Music and its president and CEO Matthew Knowles, in Federal Court.

BET Networks, a subsidiary of Viacom, is TV One's direct competitor. Both cable networks target African-American adults with entertainment-based programming.

TV One is a subsidiary of Radio One Inc. and Comcast.

TV One says it has advertised its trademarked logo for 7 years, and the public recognizes the logo as associated exclusively with TV One.

In its 36-page complaint TV One says the Essence Music Festival is the largest annual music festival in the nation that celebrates contemporary African-American culture. The festival has featured Beyonce, Alicia Keyes, Janet Jackson, John Legend and others. The annual event in New Orleans is produced by Essence Festival Productions, which is not a party to the complaint.

TV One says it paid Essence Productions $400,000 in 2009 for exclusive TV rights to the 2009 festival's performances, interviews, and behind-the scene shots. The next year, it paid $500,000 for the rights, and this year the price tag was $750,000.

With Essence Productions, TV One says, it created "TV One Night Only: Live from the Essence Music Festival," which was copyrighted by Essence. TV One's trademarks are displayed in the opening graphic and closing credits.

"Specifically with the respect to the 2010 Agreement, Essence Productions, among other things, granted TV One an exclusive license to exhibit and broadcast on television certain programs throughout the United States for a certain license period. The 2010 agreement specifically states that Essence Productions is not permitted to license these programs to networks that targets primary African-American audiences, including without limitation BET," the complaint states.

TV One claims it continues to invest in the production company, in amounts ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million, to secure its exclusive Essence Music Festival broadcast rights.

It claims Music World Music obtained the 2010 TV One documentary from Essence and gave it to Northstar, which provided it to BET Networks.

"Upon information and belief, on or about June 25, 2011, BET Network, without authorization, aired the 2010 TV One Program on its Centric Network (the 'Infringing Program')," the complaint states.

"The Infringing Program was identical to the 2010 TV One Program with two exceptions: (1) the TV One Mark was not displayed in the title or opening title graphic; and (2) BET's Centric Network logo was projected on the lower right side of the television screen (the 'Centric Network Bug').

"However, identical to the 2010 TV One Program, the Infringing Program's credits listed the TV One Mark and several TV One Employees.

"Despite the minor manipulations described above, the Infringing Program constitutes the 'First Program' under the 2010 agreement. Indeed, BET and African-American focused channels of Centric are specifically listed in the 2010 Agreement as networks to which Essence may not license the 2010 TV One Program.

"TV One never authorized defendants or granted defendants a license to broadcast the infringing program aired on BET Network's Centric Network. ...

"Taking advantage of the timing of the 2011 EMF on July 1-3, 2011, BET Networks, and BET, and MTV Networks planned to re-broadcast the Infringing Program again on July 3, 2011. Television listings of the Infringing Program to be broadcast on July 3, 2011, listed the title: 'TV One Night Only: Live from the ESSENCE Music Festival.' ...

"Despite its awareness of TV One's exclusive rights to broadcast the 2010 TV One Program, defendants never contacted TV One to seek authorization to broadcast the TV One Program."

TV One says it sent Essence Productions and BET a cease-and-desist letter on June 27, and that BET agreed to pull the program from its July 3 lineup.

TV One seeks aninjunction and damages for copyright infringement, violation of California Business and Professions Code, tortious interference with prospective business advantage and unjust enrichment.

It is represented by Thaddeus Stauber with Nixon Peabody.

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