Only Fools and Horses has been voted the most popular British TV sitcom of all time and many of its characters are household names, with their appearances and their catchphrases being instantly recognisable to millions. A company sought to take advantage of this by creating an interactive dining show called Only Fools The (Cushty) Dining Experience. This featured actors playing many of the iconic characters from the television series.
The estate of the late John Sullivan, the creator and writer of Only Fools and Horses brought a claim against the company running the dining experience on the basis that the Defendant infringed the copyright in the scripts for the TV shows. In addition, and rather unusually for UK law, the Claimant also alleged that copyright existed in the character of Del Boy and that this was infringed.
The Claimant was successful in its claims with the court holding that the TV scripts were protected as literary works and that these had been infringed. The most interesting aspect of the judgement however was the finding by the court that the character of Del Boy was indeed protected by copyright and that the Defendant had infringed those rights. This decision is in keeping with decisions made in other countries, including a case in the USA concerning Sherlock Holmes. The Defendant sought to rely on a defence of parody or pastiche of the original show and its characters but this was rejected by the court which said that mere imitation was not sufficient to rely on those defences.
This is an interesting case both as a result of its subject matter but also in respect of what it says about the copyright protection of characters and the guidance it provides in relation to seeking to rely on a defence of parody.
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