Ding-dong merrily…

By Brand Heeler

A little peace and goodwill breaks out in what could otherwise have been a nasty IP dispute

Even though some supermarkets have been stocking mince pies since September, for most of us the festive season doesn’t officially start until the annual ‘John Lewis Xmas ad plagiarism scandal’. We’ve been there before with hares and bears but this year it’s all about whether Moz the Monster is really Chris Riddell’s Mr Underbed doing a bit of promotional work on the side.

While it may be easy to spot similarities between the two creatures, it’s rather harder to conclude that these are the result of straight-up copying – after all, there have been monsters beneath children’s beds since Ugg Jr couldn’t get to sleep because of the sabre-toothed cat under his mammoth fur blanket. However, rather than threatening any legal action, Chris Riddell has simply called for advertising agencies to credit authors ‘whose work they might reference’.

That’s a nicely diplomatic turn of phrase, and a clever tactic on several counts: it avoids any nasty scenes or escalation, while still getting the author the acknowledgement and publicity to which he feels he’s entitled. That’s not to say we think Mr Riddell is trying it on (for the record, we’ve been big fans of his political cartoons since we’ve been old enough to read proper newspapers). But it’s undeniable that an appeal to the ‘Court of Public Opinion’ can be quicker, cheaper and more effective than more formal legal process.

And Chris Riddell isn’t alone: this week we’ve also noticed Vogue nightclub in Burnley taking to the (local) airwaves to complain about being bullied into changing its name by a certain fashion magazine, and there was the BrewDog/Lone Wolf spat we covered earlier this year. We also recall KFC getting burnt several Christmases ago by its response to a family pub’s innocuous offering of a ‘Christmas Family Feast’. Clever use of social media by an underdog in such cases can often persuade the other side to back down in the face of unfavourable publicity.

There is, of course, a risk associated with such rough and ready justice, which lies only a monster’s snore away from mob rule and vigilante-ism. And it’s also hard to know how much you can believe on social media in these days of fake news but businesses on a tight budget are getting smarter about standing up for their rights.

Seasons greetings to all our readers, and may all the monsters under your beds be friendly ones.

This article contains our thoughts and opinions on an issue of general interest and is written from the perspective of Australian and/or English law. It is not legal advice and is not provided in the context of a solicitor-client relationship. It may not even be relevant to your jurisdiction. No duty of care is assumed or accepted. Please carry out appropriate research and consult with a suitably qualified legal expert before taking any action or making any decisions.