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‘Cushty’ dining show loses Only Fools And Horses copyright battle

Shazam Productions, which was set up by late sitcom writer John Sullivan, had taken legal action against Only Fools The Dining Experience.

08 June 2022

A company set up by the creator of the TV sitcom Only Fools And Horses has won a High Court copyright fight with the operators of an “interactive theatrical dining experience”.

Shazam Productions, which was set up by writer John Sullivan, who died in 2011, had taken legal action against Only Fools The Dining Experience.

Lawyers representing Shazam alleged that the Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience show infringed copyright in the sitcom scripts and copyright in “each of the central characters” – and that marketing of the show had involved “passing off”.

Operators of the dining experience disputed Shazam’s claims.

Judge John Kimbell, who heard arguments at a High Court hearing in London in March, ruled in favour of Shazam on Wednesday.

The judge said, in a written ruling published online, that Shazam’s claims for “copyright infringement and passing off” had succeeded.

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.

“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 judgment, 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.”

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.

Only Fools and Horse court fight
One of a set stamps marking the 40th anniversary year of Only Fools And Horses (Royal Mail/PA)

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.

Lawyers representing Shazam said the characters had the “distinctive character traits conceived by John Sullivan” and used their “signature phrases and ways of speaking”.

Operators of the dining experience show contended that their use of the characters and materials from the sitcom did not amount to material that could be protected by copyright.

They 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.

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