May 24, 2016

Potential 'Fawlty' Claim of IP Infringement by John Cleese

John Cleese is considering legal action against an Australian theatre company's "brazen, utterly shameless" rip off of his successful television series 'Fawlty Towers', from which he claims it has been profiting for decades.

The Australian company, Interactive Theatre International (ITI) has staged its 'Faulty Towers the Dining Experience' (TFTDE) in London, most cities in Australia and other destinations around the world since 1997. The show combines interactive performances at the same time as serving a three-course meal to its audience.

According to Cleese, ITI have not sought permission from him or co-writer, Connie Booth, to use the characters, situations, names and intellectual property rights associated with the show.  As the show has been operating for 20 years, "without paying us a penny, they [ITI] could well owe us a very significant amount".

It has not yet been confirmed on what basis the claim will be brought, however, the most obvious cause of action would be a claim for passing off.

The public will be likely be confused about whether TFTDE is associated with, or endorsed by, the real Fawlty Towers or Cleese himself as the co-creator and star of the show. Changing 'Fawlty' to 'Faulty' isn't likely to be enough to avoid confusion. But then, TFTDE has been operating for years, so Cleese could be out of time for bringing a claim.

If he were to bring an action in copyright infringement, a successful claim would need to evidence that there has been a substantial amount of copying or reproduction of a substantial part of the shows' scripts from the original show.

An action to bring a trade mark infringement claim can almost certainly be ruled out, however, as Fawlty Towers is not registered as a trade mark in Australia and in the UK it belongs to the BBC.

Interestingly, TFTDE has taken a pro-active approach to protecting its own intellectual property rights. They have registered the TFTDE trade mark in Australia and their website warns people not to rip off the show. This ironically means that when Cleese takes the Fawlty Towers Live show to Australia later this year, TFTDE could potentially bring an action against him for trade mark infringement.


in: Copyright, News, Passing Off, Trade Marks

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