Only Fools and Horses ‘theatrical dinner experience’ loses copyright fight with TV creator’s son

You plonkers! Organisers of Only Fools and Horses ‘theatrical dinner experience’ lose copyright fight with TV creator’s son after including Del Boy, Rodney, Uncle Albert, Marlene, Cassandra, Boycie and Trigger in their show

Theatrical dining show based on the TV sitcom loses High Court copyright case Only Fools and Horses writer John Sullivan’s son sued the unauthorised showThey were accused of ripping off the TV show’s scripts and central characters Judge ruled in TV show’s favour, saying dining experience infringed copyright They were also guilty of ‘passing off’ in the marketing of the dining experience 

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The organisers of an Only Fools and Horses ‘theatrical dinner experience’ – which includes actors playing key characters from the TV sitcom – have lost their High Court copyright case against the show creator’s son. 

Shazam Productions, which was set up by Only Fools and Horses writer John Sullivan and was taken over by his son Jim Sullivan after the former died in 2011, took the Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience organisers to court for copyright infringement in March.

Lawyers for Shazam accused the dining experience – which Jim Sullivan had said was ‘difficult to watch’ – of ripping off both the TV show’s scripts and its use of the central characters.

They also alleged that the marketing of the dining experience involved ‘passing off’, which is to say it pretended to be associated with the original TV sitcom when there was no connection.

The case went before Judge John Kimbell at the High Court in London, where the dining experience operators disputed the allegations.

They argued that their use of the characters and materials from the sitcom did not amount to material that could be protected by copyright. 

The judge ruled in the TV sitcom’s favour, saying in a written ruling published online  that Shazam’s claims for ‘copyright infringement and passing off’ had succeeded. 

Shazam Productions, which was set up by the late comedy writer John Sullivan and taken over by his son Jim Sullivan, won its High Court copyright infringement case against ‘Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience’ (Pictured: a promotional photo for the dining experience)

Only Fools And Horses stars Buster Merryfield, Sir David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst

He concluded that the character of Del Boy is a ‘literary work for the purposes of copyright law’ and that each script used in Only Fools And Horses is a ‘dramatic work for the purposes of copyright law’.

‘I do not accept that the nature of Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience was so removed from Only Fools And Horses as to make it obvious that it was not associated with Only Fools And Horses,’ he said.

Pictured: Comedy writer John Sullivan, creator of Only Fools And Horses

‘The similarity in the dress and appearance of the characters in the publicity material for Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience, the use of the Only Fools domain name were, in my judgement, such that it was likely to cause causal observers to consider that the Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience show was officially authorised and associated with Only Fools and Horses.’ 

Shazam’s lawyers had asked the judge to watch three episodes of Only Fools And Horses before delivering his ruling.

They said he had been given a boxed set of the sitcom and asked to look at episodes called Big Brother – the first episode – Yuppy Love and Little Problems as part of his deliberations.

The judge heard that the dining experience show was a ‘part-scripted, part-improvised’ dramatic performance and featured central characters from the sitcom – Del Boy, Rodney, Uncle Albert, Marlene, Cassandra, Boycie, Trigger and DCI Roy Slater.

Carl Steele, Partner at Ashfords LLP who represented Shazam, said said the characters had the ‘distinctive character traits conceived by John Sullivan’ and used their ‘signature phrases and ways of speaking’. 

The dining experience operators denied ‘passing off’ on the ‘footing’ that their show would not be seen as connected with the owners of the intellectual property in the sitcom, but as an unofficial tribute show, and questioned whether Shazam, rather than the BBC, owned goodwill attached to the name Only Fools And Horses. 

In a statement after the judgement, Jim Sullivan said: ‘We are so very pleased with the court ruling today which makes it clear that copyright does actually mean something.

‘This case was about protecting John Sullivan’s legacy and the integrity of his work.

‘Only Fools and Horses did not just magically appear out of thin air overnight. It took my Dad decades of personal experience, skill and hard graft to create and develop an imaginary world rich in memorable characters, dialogue, jokes, plots and history. 

‘Growing up I saw first-hand how hard he fought to make Only Fools work, and we are immensely proud and protective of the joy it brought, and still brings, to so many people.’ 

Photo of the cast of Only Fools and Horses inside The Nags Head pub from the television sitcom, as TV channel Gold celebrated the show’s 40th anniversary

During the court case, Mr Sullivan had told Judge John Kimbell that his job was to manage his father’s work and generate income for the family. He added that he had watched a tape of the dining experience show.

‘I find the defendants’ show difficult to watch… and not just because it is, in my opinion, of poor quality, but because of how much of it is ripped from the original scripts written by my dad,’ he said.

‘I know that any audience member will compare it with my dad’s work.’

Barrister Thomas St Quintin, who was leading the dining experience’s legal team, had tried to argue that ‘the marketing and presentation of [the show] is sufficiently different that the relevant public are well aware that it is not associated in the course of business with the sitcom.’   

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