August 25, 2022
Only fools infringe copyright
Only fools infringe copyright

Shazam Productions, owner of the rights to the much loved TV show Only Fools and Horses, has taken action against the Only Fools The Dining Experience (‘OFDE’) in relation to their immersive theatrical dining experience “Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience”.



The dining quiz show created a theatrical experience for its audience by providing an interactive three-course meal, while actors modelled themselves on the characters of Only Fools, namely Del Boy and Rodney. The actors captured the appearance, behaviour, voice, and stock phrases of the Only Fools characters.

Shazam sued OFDE for both copyright infringement and also passing off.


Copyright claim

The copyright works Shazam sought to rely upon included (i) the scripts for the individual episodes; (ii) the scripts taken as a whole; (iii) the characters and their defining features; (iv) the lyrics; and (v) the theme song.

OFDE contested all the claims, maintaining that characters could not be protected by copyright and that they hadn’t taken any material that could be protected. They also argued that they had a defence to copyright infringement as their show amounted to a parody or pastiche and what they were doing was fair dealing, a defence not previously considered by any English court.



The IPEC (Intellectual Property Enterprise Court) upheld all Shazam’s claims with respect to copyright. In particular:

  • the character of Del Boy, which was taken as an example, was protected as a copyright work in itself, the first time that any English court has made this important finding of copyright subsisting in a character itself, independent of the underlying work;

  • the scripts were individually held to be dramatic works, which are protected under UK copyright law. It was held that there is no over-arching copyright protection in the scripts taken as a whole.

  • copyright was also deemed to subsist in the theme song and lyrics.

The court also rejected the parody and pastiche defence by OFDE, holding that the show was neither a parody or pastiche, but a mere imitation, and that in any event OFDE’s acts did not constitute fair dealing.


Passing off claim

Shazam similarly succeeded in their passing off claim.

On goodwill, the court briefly explored how Shazam owned the goodwill in relation to the TV show title and its leading characters, and goodwill was held to be present and owned by Shazam in the title and characters themselves.

On misrepresentation, the OFDE show was not far-removed enough from Shazam’s Only Fools tv show to make it obvious that the two were not linked. The OFDE name itself was liable to confuse and mislead – therefore misrepresentation was established.

Finally, the court held that damage would inevitably ensue, as the title of OFDE’s show was liable to deceive and divert custom to the defendants’ show from the West End musical recently launched by Shazam.



The case set a new precedent with respect to copyright law in particular, which will be of particular relevance to rights holders, private businesses and content creators.

In particular:

  • The lifting of characters (and the world in which they exist) into a new format, without adding anything new or unique, could give rise to copyright infringement;

  • These types of cases are very fact-specific, but it is likely that similar copyright cases would go hand-in-hand with a claim of passing off;

  • Parody will rarely be a successful defence if the defendant solely relies on the fact that the original material is funny, and makes no attempt to mock or criticise it.

  • Content creators should be aware that their characters may be protected, and similarly, content creators should give caution to how they use existing characters in their own works.
Designs & Copyright /  Arts & Entertainment /  Disputes

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