Del Boy, a privileged fictional character

September 5, 2022

Intellectual Property

What differentiates us from a fictional character? One would find this plain interrogation amusing as its obviousness could seem absurd. However, it is in the current century that the border between both worlds is getting thinner. The recent case between the ‘Only Fools Dining Experience Show’ and Shazam recently reassessed the level at which fictional characters benefit from legal protection.

The affair revolved around the intellectual property restrictions that were faced by a dining experience quiz show entirely based upon a successful sitcom written by John Sullivan, entitled ‘Only Fools and Horses’. Shazam, as the owner of the copyrights from the original piece of work, brought a claim against him in July 2019 for copyright infringement and passing off of their show.

The company claimed that the dining show had infringed their rights by replicating the script of each episode, the body of the scripts, the characters, and the audio.  The claim was specifically drawn towards the protection of the main character (Del Boy’s) features.
The Court approached the claim by firstly declaring that the scripts were protected by the Copyrights, Designs and Patents as a dramatic work. Secondly, and in a first for English law, the Court found that the concerned fictional character would also be protected by the act as a literary work. As a result, the Court found that the dining experience show had infringed Shazam’s rights.

Briffa comments

As the first case that has emerged in the UK in which a purely fictional character was afforded intellectual property protection, it is expected that such precedent will influence content creators for many years to come. The requirements that must be met for a fictional character to obtain legal protection nonetheless remain ambiguous, and it will subsequently be for the Courts to gradually define the realistic and humanistic standards that must be met.

After evaluating the impact of this case, it is fundamental that individuals are aware of their rights, but also of the complications that they could be facing when using another’s creation. Here at Briffa, the team benefits from over 25 years’ experience assisting with all aspects of copyright protection, ranging from initial recordal to enforcement in the event of infringement. If you need any further information in this regard, please do feel free to get in touch with us via info@briffa.com.

Written by Clara Aucouturier – Work Experience with Briffa

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