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Love or Heartbreak: has TVNZ ripped off the UK’s biggest summer reality hit?

A lazy knockoff or a legal maelstrom in waiting? Jihee Junn delves into the details of Love Island vs. Heartbreak Island.

Amy Winehouse once crooned that love was just a losing game. But for reality TV producers all around the world, love – in its broadest sense – has been a winning one. Over the past year, local TV has been treating audiences to a whole range of on-screen dalliances, with networks happily lapping up the rare ratings uptick. While Three’s done admirably to capitalise on the popularity of the genre with locally produced versions of The Bachelor and Married at First Sight, TVNZ has yet to quite find its footing, with its most prominent outing, First Dates New Zealand, going down like a tall pint of milk.

So it’s no surprise that among TVNZ’s new season line-up of mysteries, comedies and documentary dramas was the announcement of Heartbreak Island – its own foray into the world of arranged romance. Applications are currently being sought from the public, with a surprisingly large number of people more than willing to bare their souls to this cruel, cruel world (TVNZ 2’s initial Facebook post attracted more than 1,400 likes and almost 10,000 comments).

But the parallels with fellow reality show Love Island have been unmissable. This is partly to do with the fact TVNZ OnDemand recommends the show on its Heartbreak Island page (subtle), and partly to do with the fact that 50% of both titles have the word ‘Island’ in its name (in case you haven’t noticed).

SUBTLE.

When it comes to the initial sell of both shows, Love Island describes itself as “a reality show, where a bunch of beautiful singles leave their ordinary lives behind. To win the game, they have to couple up, in the hope of finding true love and a shot at the £50,000 ($87,000NZD) prize.”

For Heartbreak Island, the show will match ten single guys and ten single girls who have never met before to “battle it out in a game of emotional and physical strength to find a partner AND win $100,000. Each of them is looking for love, but can they outwit the other contestants to score their perfect match AND the money?”

But the similarities don’t just stop there, with Love Island’s sandy, sunkissed imagery matched by Heartbreak Island’s sunset silhouette. Then there’s the location: Love Island is set in Spain’s Majorca while Heartbreak Island, which has yet to disclose its exact location, has been described as “Tinder in the tropics” by TVNZ’s deputy director of content Andrew Shaw.

ONE OF THESE THINGS IS A LOT LIKE THE OTHER.

While details about the new show remain scant, TVNZ says Heartbreak Island will be an “original” and “locally developed format” created by Auckland-based production company Imagination. TVNZ adds that Heartbreak Island has no relation with the British dating show and will be “very different to Love Island but will have the same audience appeal”. It also says that there have been no discussions with Love Island’s broadcaster ITV2 or its production company ITV Studios.

Legally speaking, while there’s potential that there may be an infringement of some sort, it’s hard to say with any certainty as specifics around the show remain under wraps.

“If it’s simply similar concepts, then unfortunately for ITV, they’re free for the world,” says Simpson Grierson’s intellectual property lawyer Earl Gray. “The idea of an island where singles get together and have to pair up isn’t enough to give rise to a copyright claim in my view. But if they were to have, for example, similar scripts, then you’d be getting closer to a claim like that.”

After all, while Love Island might be first to come to mind upon hearing about TVNZ’s new show, it’s easy to forget that the early-2000s hosted a range of similar outings. Temptation Island saw couples and singles cohabiting together in Belize to test the strength of their relationships, while Paradise Hotel stationed a group of single people in a luxury resort, with contestants forced to pair off each week and share a hotel room with their partner.

RIP TEMPTATION ISLAND, 2001-2003

Gray says while there may be other legal risks that could put TVNZ over the line, due to the fact-specific nature of such claims, it’s hard to say whether they would have any validity. “If the names are similar enough and the concepts are similar enough that people are misled into believing they’re the same show or the sequel to it or something like that, then there could possibly be a breach of the fair-trading act or a concept called a ‘passing off’ type claim.”

“There’s also potentially contractual issues if, for example, when ITV allowed TVNZ to air Love Island, they said they could do this on the basis that they don’t create a show that’s similar conceptually, although I think most programming licences cover that.”

In this context, rather than being a direct rip-off, it’s more likely that Heartbreak Island is simply a brazen attempt on TVNZ’s part to capitalise on the UK’s trendiest phenomenon as closely (and as close to the wind legally) as possible. It’s a way for the broadcaster to emphasise its objective of “more local content” without having to think too far outside the box. And if the ratings for Love Island in the UK are anything to go by (2.6 million viewers tuned into the final – ITV2’s highest overnight audience ever), it’ll be banking on the show to become New Zealand’s very own watercooler hit.


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