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Only Fools & Horses copyright case win sets new precedent

Deputy High Court Judge John Kimbell QC, has handed down his much anticipated judgment in the case of Shazam Productions Limited v Only Fools The Dining Experience Limited and Others[2022] EWHC 1379 (IPEC), ruling that Del Boy is a copyright work. This is the first time that the Courts in this country have recognised that a fictional character can be an independent copyright work.

Ashfords LLP represented Shazam, the owner of the copyright in the scripts for the award winning television sitcom “Only Fools and Horses”, created and written by John Sullivan. They took their instructions throughout the case from John’s son, Jim Sullivan.

The legal proceedings were brought to prevent the continued performance of an unlicensed interactive dining show, called “Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience”, which features characters taken from the Sitcom and their catchphrases, jokes, wants, desires and backstories, but presented in the context of an interactive pub quiz which never appeared in the Sitcom.

As the Deputy Judge said, the Show “amounted in substance to the creation of a new episode of [the Sitcom]”.

The Deputy Judge held, amongst other things, that the Show infringed Shazam’s copyrights and its marketing and name was contrary to the law of passing-off.  He also held that the Show was not ‘fair dealing’ with Shazam’s copyrights, for the purposes of parody or pastiche. Those working in the creative industries now have judicial guidance available in the judgment as to the ingredients for the previously untested defences of parody and pastiche.

Carl Steele, Partner at Ashfords LLP and head of the legal team representing Shazam, said:

“The decision has major implications for those who wish to use such characters and who, in the past, might not have sought the copyright owner’s permission to do so.  It is also, to my knowledge, the first time an English Court has had to consider the law concerning ‘fair dealing’ of a copyright work for the purposes of parody or pastiche.”

“I am delighted for Jim Sullivan and the wider Sullivan family. A big ‘thank you’ to the client, for having the trust and confidence in Ashfords and our Counsel, Jonathan Hill, to win this landmark case for them. Only Fools and Horses is a national treasure and its writer, John Sullivan, is recognised as having been a master of his art.”

For more information, please contact Carl Steele, Partner and Head of our Intellectual Property team.

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