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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Only Fools and Horses copyright win sets precedent

Only Fools and Horses copyright win sets precedent


An interactive dining performance amounted to "a new episode” of the famous sitcom

The much-anticipated judgment in Shazam Productions Limited v Only Fools The Dining Experience Limited and Others [2022] EWHC 1379 (IPEC) was handed down today, with Judge John Kimbell QC finding in Shazam’s favour.

Legal proceedings were brought by Shazam to prevent the continued performance of an unlicensed interactive dining show called ‘Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience’. The dining show featured characters from tv show ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and their catchphrases, jokes, wants, desires and backstories, but presented in the context of an interactive pub quiz which never appeared in the tv show.   

Kimbell J said the performance “amounted in substance to the creation of a new episode” of Only Fools and Horses. It was also held that the performance infringed Shazam’s copyrights, and its marketing and name was contrary to the law of passing-off.  

The Deputy Judge said the performance was not ‘fair dealing’ in relation to Shazam’s copyrights, for the purposes of parody or pastiche. This means there is now judicial guidance available in the judgment as to the ingredients for the previously untested defences of parody and pastiche.

Ashfords LLP represented Shazam, owner of the copyright in the scripts for the show created and written by John Sullivan. Instructions were taken throughout from Sullivan’s son, Jim.

Carl Steele, partner at Ashfords LLP and head of the team representing Shazam, said: “I am delighted for Jim Sullivan and the wider Sullivan family. A big ‘thank you’ to the client, for having the trust and confidence in Ashfords and our Counsel, Jonathan Hill, to win this landmark case for them.

"Only Fools and Horses is a national treasure and its writer, John Sullivan, is recognised as having been a master of his art.

"The Deputy Judge held that the fictional character, Del Boy, is a copyright work. To my knowledge, this is the first time in this country that a fictional character has been recognised as an independent copyright work.

“The decision has major implications for those who wish to use such characters and who, in the past, might not have sought the copyright owner’s permission to do so.  It is also, to my knowledge, the first time an English Court has had to consider the law concerning ‘fair dealing’ of a copyright work for the purposes of parody or pastiche.”