The John Lewis Christmas advert is perhaps one of the most highly anticipated Christmas adverts during the build up towards Christmas. With a bit of CGI magic many a heart-warming story has been brought to our screens. From trampoline loving Buster the dog, to Monty the penguin’s search for love – John Lewis has come to be known for delivering memorable characters along with their many products.
This year the John Lewis advert featured “Moz” a big, loud, friendly, furry, endearing, snoring monster who sleeps under the bed. However, since the advert premiered Chris Riddell, a writer and illustrator of children’s books, has accused John Lewis of copying his children’s picture book, Mr Underbed. Mr Underbed also features a big, loud, friendly, furry, endearing, snoring monster who resides under the bed. Mr Riddell expressed how he “was struck by the similarity of the concept when [he] watched the ad, and subsequently a number of people have tweeted and emailed [him] pointing this out.”
John Lewis responded to the accusations asserting that “the story of a big hairy monster under the bed which keeps a child from sleeping is a universal tale which has been told many times over many years”.
Mr Riddell further stated the “idea of a monster under the bed is by no means new but the ad does seem to bear a close resemblance to [his] creation”.
So, could Mr Riddell succeed in a claim for copyright infringement?
Copyright protects original artistic works, in this case an illustration. In order to prove copyright infringement, Mr Riddell would need to prove that John Lewis had access to his original work and the advert had substantially reproduced pictures from his book Mr Underbed. Many defendants will deny that they ever saw or were aware of the claimant’s work when producing their own creation, in this case “Moz”. If the court can be persuaded that the defendant did have access to the claimant’s work, then one way of assessing that copyright infringement took place is to analyse the similarities between the two respective pieces of work, as to whether or not the similarities are so close that they are indicative of copying. John Lewis makes the point, quite rightly, that there are lots of depictions of monsters in children’s literature which reside under a bed. Therefore, in order for the case to succeed the similarities between the respective works are likely needed to be striking and suspiciously similar.
This isn’t the first John Lewis Christmas advertisement to have caused some controversy. John Lewis’ Christmas Advert “The Bear and the Hare” was also accused of plagiarising a children’s book Bear Stays Up For Christmas back in 2013. John Lewis enjoyed record takings of £101m after the release of the advert, 10.7 percent up on the previous year. A John Lewis spokesperson was forced to deny any link: “They’re not related. Stories about animals at Christmas are nothing new”.
A recent EU trade mark application for the word mark, PUT PUTIN IN, has been refused by the European Union Intellectual Property Office on the grounds of being contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality. While a fairly straightforward decision, this is a timely reminder…
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