The owners of iconic British comedy show “Only Fools and Horses” have won a copyright battle against an “Only Fools”-themed dining show.
“Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience” is billed as an “interactive dining show” in which diners are subsumed into the world of the long-running TV series, which aired on BBC 1 between 1981 and 1991, with actors dressed as the characters delivering a part-scripted, part-improvized performance.
In a judgment handed down today, Deputy High Court Judge John Kimbell found in favor of Shazam Productions, a production company owned by the heirs of John Sullivan, creator of “Only Fool and Horses.”
Sullivan died in 2011 but his wife Sharon and children James, Dan and Amy, continue to run Shazam Productions as a vehicle for exploiting the “Only Fools and Horses” IP. Among the projects they have granted a license to are board games, books and a musical co-written by James Sullivan and comedian Paul Whitehouse.
In a lengthy and detailed judgment, Justice Kimbell set out that the scripts for “Only Fools and Horses” constituted a dramatic work while the character of Del Boy – played by David Jason in the series – was a literary work capable of protection under E.U. copyright law. He found that actors in the dining show “used the appearance, mannerisms, voices and catchphrases of Del Boy, Rodney, Uncle Albert, Cassandra, Boycie, and Marlene as they appeared in the broadcast version.”
In particular, he accepted that there was “a real likelihood of diversion of trade” from the authorized musical to the dining show, writing in his judgment: “Both had the same principal characters, with their full backstories and distinctive catchphrases, albeit the shows had different settings and formats. I consider that most members of the public, knowing that the TV series had long since ended, would be equally likely to consider that both were authorised spin offs.”
He also found that a script from the dining show had borrowed significantly from the original series.
In their defence, the creators behind the dining show, who also run a similar “Fawlty Towers” themed experience, attempted to argue their version was a parody or pastiche, but Justice Kimbell was not persuaded.
“Works of parody can only facilitate dialogue or give rise to artistic confrontation if they are in some sense themselves constitute an expression of opinion expressed as humour or mockery,” he wrote in his judgment. “I accept [Shazam’s] submission that mere imitation (of a work of comedy) is not enough to constitute parody.”
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