BBC/DWTS Productions Reportedly Files Suit Against “Ballroom With A Twist”

Hollywood Reporter is reporting that the BBC and DWTS Productions have filed a complaint against Scott Stander and Associates of “Ballroom With A Twist”. Below you’ll find an excerpt from the report that describes the situation and Stander’s response. Heidi, Courtney, John, and I have some personal thoughts on this which you can read below (Note: We’re not attorneys. We do love DWTS and dance tours.). Let us know what you think in the comments too.

BBC and co-plaintiff DWTS Productions have a problem with the defendant’s advertising, asserting that “Ballroom with a Twist” is written in the same color, font and design in promotional materials as DWTS. The plaintiffs have also flagged advertisements on the websites of theaters describing the show as “a non-competitive spinoff of Dancing with the Stars, featur[ing] sizzling performances by jaw-dropping ‘DWTS’ celebrity pros.”

The lawsuit alleges unfair competition and trademark claims, raising the theory that by using DWTS in this manner, Standler will be “likely to cause confusion among ordinary consumers as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or approval of the BWAT show, and to dilute the value of the DWTS Mark.”

What takes this lawsuit that extra step is the note by plaintiffs that they have locked up contracts with all of its DWTS dancers including Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Emma Slater, Sharna Burgess, Peta Murgatroyd, and Jenna Johnson that guarantees, according to the complaint, they “shall not not render services or appear in any other dance related program in any medium, or authorize the use of the DWTS Dancer’s name, voice, or likeness in connection with an endorsement for any such program.”

Standler gave us this comment:
“We just received a copy of a complaint, and our attorneys are reviewing it. Our show has been in existence for over five years now without any previous objection by DWTS, so it is quite surprising and very suspect that they are now suing us. However, we are, and have been, just fair and open competition performing in live theatrical venues with different and unique entertainment elements in our show. There are also several other live dancing show productions out there. Our attorneys will respond in kind and protect what we have created and developed over the years and if necessary will file a counter lawsuit.”

Vogue: This makes me sad. Scott Stander is one of the most sweetest and giving people. I know this personally. He has gone out of his way so that many fans like myself could see the show, meet the pros, etc. In my opinion, Scott and Ballroom With A Twist have only HELPED to promote Dancing With The Stars in the off season not the opposite…as well as promote ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ And ‘American Idol’. Also, why is the BBC and DWTS productions making such a big deal on taking issues now when ‘Ballroom With A Twist” has had this show going in the way it has for a such long time (5 years)? Sad… I hope they can work it out somehow because I don’t think a suit is necessary especially when Ballroom With A twist has done so much for Dancing With The Stars and vice versa. Why not work together for the good of “dancing”, dancers, and dance fans everywhere instead?

Heidi: Well, unfortunately, anyone can sue. I think that the huge success of MOVE, selling out in 98% of the 50 or so shows they did across the country woke the owners of DWTS to the fact that they might be able to mount an equally successful tour next summer. This suit could well be the first step in eliminating the competition. Not only are they complaining about the marketing, but they specifically mention the pros who have long term contracts with DWTS and who also performed in BWAT.  I think it’s pretty clear that if they lose the lawsuit, they can still eliminate BWAT by preventing those pros from performing in it.  As for MOVE, I doubt they can touch that tour, because I doubt that Derek is still under long term contract. With all he has going on and the length of time he’s been on the show, he’s got to have a sweeter deal.  The question is Sway. Sway is of much shorter duration, but from the sound of this suit, they can certainly put the kibosh on that one if they want to. Or at least, take out a lot of the dancers.   The reason why the lawsuit bugs me is that it harms the income of the dancers if DWTS decides not to go forward with it’s own tour. Not only that, but it does indeed seem short sighted of DWTS to sue a production that does serve to promote the show’s professionals and, in turn, the show itself.  If you want to mount your own tour, just do that and prevent the dancers from taking part in BWAT – not sure why the extra step is needed.

Courtney: Heidi is spot-on when she mentions this suit having the potential to hurt the livelihoods of some of the pros.  I’ve referenced this before, but the bf actually interviewed for a pro spot on DWTS about 5 years ago – and while the salary ain’t bad, it’s certainly not handsome enough to live off of year-round if you’re a fairly new pro like Sharna, Sasha, Emma, etc…especially in a city with such a high cost-of-living as Los Angeles.  There’s a reason why these pros stay busy in the off-season – not only does it keep their skills sharp, but it’s often much-needed supplemental income.  And in the cases of dismissed pros like Anna & Chelsie – it’s often their primary source of income, and if this lawsuit basically shuts down shows like BWAT or Alec & Edyta’s “Dance Pros Live”, that’s one less opportunity that ballroom pros have to earn money.  I give DWTS a lot of credit for bringing ballroom to the mainstream and turning professional dancers who had toiled in relative obscurity into household names, but this just seems like a bit of a d*ck move – shutting down a show that has been around for more than a few years now, likely because they’re looking to start their own show back up. I don’t even think BWAT would offer up much competition for a new iteration of the DWTS live tour – BWAT has mainly stuck to smaller venues, and tickets aren’t exorbitantly priced; I can only speak for myself, but if both shows came to my hometown, I’d shell out for both. But I get that the head honchos at DWTS are basically trying to protect their assets by keeping their pros to themselves.  It’s just such a sticky situation – and since there are no guarantees that an official DWTS tour is going to happen, this just seems like bad news for both fans AND some of the pros.

John: I think there’s probably a lot more to this lawsuit than we realize. I bet more details will come out on it that we don’t know about yet. Plus, DWTS actually has to enforce its trademark if it wants to keep it. If it doesn’t enforce any violations of its mark, then it will lose its mark. It does make you wonder what took them so long to do it though. I don’t think MOVE or Edyta’s “Dance Pros Live” will have an issue, because I don’t think they’ve used the DWTS mark to promote their tours. I don’t think they used any of the pros that were under DWTS contract either. My guess is that those tours will be fine. Plus, BWAT can probably keep going if they remove the dancers under contract and the DWTS and Dancing with the Stars reference. Although, the look at past damages (or benefits) would be an interesting and challenging one. I think there are also laws and penalties for violation of trademarks even when you can’t show any damages.

It is pretty sad that the dancers kind of get screwed by their contracts. Of course, they’re the ones that chose to sign the contracts. All of the dancers should have chosen to never sign an exclusive contract and then this wouldn’t have been an issue. Of course, it’s a game or Russian roulette if you go that route. I’m reminded of an interview with Nigel Lythgoe, producer of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), where they asked him his feelings about SYTYCD dancers dancing on DWTS. He responded “These kids need to work.” Basically, he understood that life as a dancer was hard and there’s a limited time period where you can make money dancing. He didn’t want to stunt their careers. It’s not like music (see American Idol) where you can sing for a long time and so they can give you a terrible contract up front and you’ll be fine if your name is Carrie Underwood.

Anytime a lawyer gets involved it’s not pretty and everyone loses. Although, DWTS has the right to protect their trademark. We’ll see what happens with the case.