For those familiar with the comedy series “Only Fools and Horses”, it may cause amusement to hear that one of the main characters, Del Boy, who often lived on the edge of the law, has been instrumental in clarifying a legal principle.
In a High Court case, the claimant, who owned the rights to the Only Fools and Horses TV comedy, brought a claim against the Defendants, who had launched an interactive dining show featuring characters from Only Fools and Horses.
Among many issues considered in the case was whether copyright could subsist in a character from a dramatic or literary work (in this case, the main character, Del Boy). As the Judge commented: ”There is surprisingly little discussion in English case law or commentary on [this issue]”.
The Judge considered the scripts of the Only Fools and Horses episodes to establish whether the character of Del Boy (as opposed to the name itself) could attract copyright protection.
He formulated a two stage test – the originality requirement and the identifiability requirement.
The Judge considered the author’s development of the character of Del Boy, describing him as “aspirational but… also shown struggling to get by in a gritty multicultural London context of clubs, pubs and tower blocks”. He noted his use of “mangled French, showed “a desire on his part to appear suave and sophisticated while at the same time providing comic effect because the phrases were used incorrectly.”
On the first stage of the text, he concluded that Del Boy represents a highly distinctive and original character.
As regards identifiability, the Judge had little difficulty in concluding that “the features of Del Boy relied upon by the claimants as constituting his character are…. precisely and objectively discernable in the scripts.”
As such the character of Del Boy was protected under copyright law.
As regards the case overall, the claimants won hands down regarding copyright infringement and passing off (the latter being that the dining show gave the false impression of being connected to Only Fools and Horses, with a likelihood of damage to the owners of the rights).
 Shazam Productions – v- Only Fools The Dining Experience Ltd and others 2022 EWHC 1379