Disney's Mouse Took My Cheese

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How did Disney/ABC take the idea for a series called "Foreign Exchange", created by a writer in Michigan, and produce two programs based on the idea - "Switched" and "Switched Up" - without compensating the writer in any way?

Two years ago, Robynn Clairday, a published writer for a number of Children's books including several Sweet Valley series books, and her children's humor book, Tell Me This Isn't Happening, decided to try her hand at pitching ideas for several reality shows, a genre that was growing more popular by the day. One of her pitches was for a new reality concept she called Foreign Exchange. When she was told this was being pitched to an ABC executive in May 2002, she was ecstatic.

Disney/ABC behind the project would surely produce a success for all involved, including the creator. But, they turned it down, and Ms. Clairday went on to other projects. Imagine her surprise when friends from around the country started calling her in May 2003, to tell her that they saw promos for her show.

Upon intensive review, comparing sections of ABC's identical show, which they called Switched, large sections of both treatments were found to be nearly identical with Ms. Clairday's original Foreign Exchange treatment.

A lawsuit was initiated on behalf of Ms. Clairday in July 2003 against Disney/ABC seeking damages.

Complaint info: SUPERIOR COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA FOR THE COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, CASE NUMBER: BC310978 FILING DATE: 2/20/2004 (ROBYNN CLAIRDAY, Plaintiff v. ABC FAMILY WORLDWIDE, INC., a California Corporation; ABC ENTERPRISES, INC., a California Corporation; ABC, INC., a California Corporation; LIBBY JAMES, an individual; and DOES 1 through 100, Inclusive, Defendants)

To date, in spite of the fact that ABC has aired many episodes of both Switched, and it's spinoff, Switched Up, Ms. Clairday has collected zero from them for her original idea.

During a time when the US, and Disney in particular, have been concerned about the pirating of their Intellectual Properties by Chinese and other manufacturers, it is ironic that here in the US, they are doing the same thing to individual writer/creators.

Timeline for Foreign Exchange:

March 14, 2002: Ms. Clairday registered a four-page, detailed treatment for the TV reality show, Foreign Exchange, with The National Creative Registry. The premise for the show was young people exchanging lives with other young people whose worlds were totally opposite from each other.

April 2002: Ms. Clairday then pitched the show to Olmos Productions (owned by Freddie Olmos of Miami Vice). They were interested and wanted to present the show to ABC.

May 2002: Olmos Productions presented the show to an ABC executive over a lunch meeting. They were also sent a fax copy of the treatment. The executive was interested, but then reviewed the idea further, and "turned it down".

February 2003: Ms. Clairday pitched Foreign Exchange to Bryan Hale, an executive at Evolution Productions. He revealed that they were already producing a quote "identical show" for ABC Family. The show is now called Switched, which aired on ABC Family beginning May 2003. It's premise is young people exchanging lives with other young people whose worlds were totally opposite from each other. ABC Family promotes show on website with material almost identical to my treatment.

May 2003 - ABC Family began airing Switched, with material on their website almost identical to the original treatment for Foreign Exchange that Ms. Clairday created in 2002.

July 2003, Adams, Noblin & Vrataric LLP decided to represent Ms. Clairday, and filed a lawsuit against ABC.

Spring 2004: ABC then produced a spin-off, Switched Up, which began airing in the Spring 2004. This has the same premise of young people exchanging lives with others whose worlds are totally opposite from theirs, except now the players are people in their twenties.

The issue is whether large corporations will be allowed to appropriate writers ideas without payment. ABC has a pattern of this kind of behavior. Writers have little power against corporate leviathans, and like Disney/ABC, depend on protecting their own creations and intellectual property in order to make their living.

According to news reports in April 2004, Uri Geller also sues ABC for stealing his reality show idea about couples competing to adopt a child. http://www.contactmusic.com/new/xmlfeed.nsf/mndwebpages/GELLER%20PLANS%20LEGAL%20WAR%20WITH%20ABC%20OVER%20ADOPTION%20SHOW

ABC also being sued for Extreme Makeover reality show--claims of it being stolen from the creator.


Interview Contact:     

Robynn Clairday, creator of Foreign Exchange

Telephone: 248-926-4388


Attorney Contact:     

Adams, Noblin & Vrataric LLP

305 S. Kalodrama, Suite C Ventura CA 93001

805-653-7700 phone


counsel contact: Jason Adams

co-counsel--David Olan

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