American Idol Creator is the Next to Give Rupert Murdoch a Headache

As if News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA) didn’t have enough to worry about, now Fox is being sued by American Idol creator Simon Fuller, who claims he should be paid a hefty sum for the network’s new show, The X Factor, being produced by ex-Idol judge Simon Cowell.

Fuller already exacted a huge settlement in a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Cowell when X Factor first launched in the U.K. in 2004, getting an executive producer fee and credit. But now Fremantle North America, which produces both The X Factor and American Idol, is refusing to honor that deal.

According to the lawsuit filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court:

“Fox and Fremantle made hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to the creative efforts of Fuller… [and] now, when it is time to finally perform on these unequivocal promises, Fox and Fremantle refuse to provide Fuller his executive producer credit for Defendants’ new television show, The X Factor, and refuse to pay Fuller an executive producer fee ‘commesurate with his duties and stature in the entertainment industry.’ Defendants refusal to honor their promises made to Fuller is particularly malicious given that but for Fuller’s agreement, the X Factor show would not be able to broadcast in the United States at all.”

Fuller’s original lawsuit in 2004 claimed that The X Factor ripped off American Idol, which had already aired several seasons with Simon Cowell as the lead judge. Because of the popularity of American Idol, Fox brokered a deal keeping X Factor out of the U.S. until 2011 in order to keep American Idol, signing Cowell for five more seasons and giving him a bigger stake in the franchise while exacting an agreement from Fuller to take the similar Pop Idol off the air in the U.K. in exchange for a fee on X Factor and a credit on the show should it ever come to America.

Fuller created the Idol format in the U.K. in 2001, hiring Cowell, a friend at the time, as a judge. When a U.S. version of the show was created, Fuller’s 19 Entertainment entered into a partnership with Fox and Fremantle, but Cowell never owned any rights to the show. In 2004, Cowell borrowed from the Idol format when he created The X Factor, a show that puts all sorts of performers in front of 3 judges who decide whether to let them move on in the competition, ultimately putting the top acts to a public vote, just like American Idol. The only difference is that the show doesn’t limit itself to singers but witnesses everything from dancers to musicians to acrobats.

Despite the similarities between the two shows, Fox has not recognized Fuller’s right to any credit or royalties, issuing a statement to the Hollywood Reporter saying:

“Mr. Fuller has not been hired, nor performed any duties, on the U.S. version of The X Factor. His suit seeks payment and credit as an executive producer despite his neither having been approved by the required parties, nor hired, as such. We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we expect to prevail.”

But it might be in Fox’s best interest to make a deal, not only because Fuller is the executive producer of the network’s most popular show, but because News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA) needs to avoid the bad press. Fuller has already dragged Fox’s parent company into the scandal, citing News Corp.’s “callous disregard” for his rights, as well as a “corporate culture” of “wrongful behavior”, an allusion to the phone-hacking scandal.