Co-Authored with Jessica Freiman, articling
It is tempting for a small business to sign up to be on a
reality TV competition.
The free publicity and exposure may be a great way to broadcast
a fledgling idea to a wide audience. If she's lucky, an
entrepreneur's appearance will draw interest, awareness and
maybe even some investment in her company.
But the allure of stardom and publicity can easily lead to a
business biting off more than it can chew. And, in the recent case
of a startup's appearance on CBC's reality competition,
Dragons' Den, one entrepreneur certainly did not get what he
thought he had bargained for.
It all started simply enough when Montreal lawyer Marc Ribeiro
signed up to appear on CBC's Dragons' Den to pitch a board
game that he and his company had created.
CBC drafted a comprehensive release for Mr. Ribeiro and his
company to sign before appearing on its show. Like most releases
for appearances on reality TV, the CBC contract stated:
"I understand that ... my appearance, depiction and/or
portrayal in the Program may be disparaging, defamatory,
embarrassing or of an otherwise unfavourable nature which may
expose me to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation ... [and
that the] Producer shall have the right to ... include any ...
appearances, depictions or portrayals in the Program as edited by
[the] Producer in its sole discretion ... I ... agree that I will
not sue ... for any damage, loss or harm to me or my property
howsoever caused, resulting or arising out of or in connection with
... participation and appearance in or elimination from the Program
Shows like Dragons' Den do open up opportunities
for free publicity for businesses seeking a large audience. But
this can come at a cost. Signing a release like the one that
Ribeiro signed opens up the possibility of being humiliated on TV
in front of that same large audience, with no recourse, since the
right to sue has been signed away.
When Ribeiro's episode of Dragons' Den ultimately aired,
a voice-over introduced his segment in a manner that Ribeiro would
later contend had conveyed his board game business proposal as a
"The dragons never pull punches when they spot a
money-losing venture," the segment began. "Unfortunately,
these next few ideas hit the mat immediately."
Despite the comprehensive release he had signed when
auditioning, Ribeiro and his company sued the CBC for gross and
reckless negligence, intentional misconduct, malice and bad faith
over the introductory voice-over and how his segment was edited. He
argued that the CBC owed him and his company a stand-alone duty of
good faith that was independent of the terms expressed in the
In the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, CBC's motion for a
summary judgment dismissing Ribeiro's claim was granted.
The Ontario Court of Appeal, however, sided with the CBC.
Participants in reality TV who sign waivers and take risks open
themselves up to being portrayed however the show sees fit, often
times in a negative way, since reality TV "drama" looks
to provide entertaining viewing rather than public education.
The release Ribeiro had signed, said the court, gave the CBC
sole discretion to edit the show however it wanted. The CBC had
Ribeiro's permission from the release to portray Ribeiro and
his company in any manner it chose – in a factual, fictional
or even defamatory one. Therefore, the CBC had no contractual duty
to edit the broadcast in a manner favourable to Ribeiro.
The business impact of an embarrassing reality TV show
appearance can be severe. This is not to say, however, that taking
the risk of dabbling in reality TV will always end in disaster or
What does matter is the substance of the release that
the show requires participants to sign. And, as this case
indicates, a careful review the contract and a full understanding
of its terms before taking the plunge into reality TV stardom, or
notoriety, are a must.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).