10 June 2022

In a ruling published this week, a judge (after watching 3 episodes) said that the character of Del Boy was a literary work, and that each script of the much loved sitcom Only Fools and Horses was a dramatic work.

This ruling is important because it gives creators and producers of TV shows (and film or theatre) copyright protection for their characters as “literary works” in their own right. It helps if those characters are distinctive, well-defined and well-known.

The action had been brought by Shazam Productions, set up by Only Fools creator John Sullivan, against the operators of an “interactive theatrical dining experience” called Only Fools the (Cushty) Dining Experience where paying customers enjoyed drinks and a three-course meal while interacting with actors playing Del Boy, Rodney, Uncle Albert, Boycie, Marlene, Cassandra, Trigger and DCI Roy Slater.

The judge was given a box set of the show to watch by Shazam. He said that parody or pastiche were no defence and that the characters had “distinctive character traits conceived by John Sullivan”, using their “signature phrases and ways of speaking”, including Del Boy’s mangled French patter.

Although the scripts of Only Fools and Horses were adjudged to be “dramatic works”, the actual characters in the scripts, like Del Boy and Rodney, were adjudged to be “literary works”, which enjoy a higher standard of copyright protection.

Furthermore, the judge said that the characters in the TV series were so similar in dress and appearance to the Only Fools the (Cushty) Dining Experience, together with the use of an “Only Fools” domain name, that the public might think the Only Fools the (Cushty) Dining Experience show was officially authorised and associated with the TV show.

This is good news for creators, writers and producers. Cushty.

For more information regarding trademarks, contact Head of Media, Entertainment and Intellectual Property at Battens, Brian Levine 01935 846258.