IP, Technology & Data

I grew up in a busy Irish household and there were always loads of priests popping in. Most of them were hilarious. There was Father Morris, who was crazy about horseracing, there was Father Bonner, who liked to try out sports cars by “giving them the ton” (driving them in excess of 100 miles per hour), and a very glamorous priest who wore shades – even at night time. It turned out that “Father Orbison”, as we referred to him, had glaucoma (or so he said).

Unsurprisingly then, the sitcom Father Ted was a big hit with my family when it was broadcast in the mid-nineties. I was therefore amused to read yesterday about the legal problems facing Father Ted: The Dinner Show, which is due to be staged in Edinburgh in August as part of the Fringe. Attendees to the show will be given their dinner whilst being “entertained by the much loved and extravagant Father Ted Crilly who has a habit of getting into awkward situations, the young, dim witted Father Dougal McGuire and famously drunk since 1936, and the alcoholic swear machine Father Jack Hackett!”

However it’s not clear if the show is going to go ahead at all. A brisk legal analysis would be that the use of the character names and/or their physical characteristics infringes both copyright and trademark rights, and various rights holders don’t appear to be impressed.

The author of the scripts for the Father Ted sitcom, Graham Linehan, has publicly denounced Laughlines as “a bunch of chancers” and is proposing that they should donate some of the profits to charity.  It’s unclear if Linehan actually still owns the copyright in the characters (he may have assigned the rights to whoever produced the sitcom for television), but he may still retain the moral right to object to derogatory treatment of them.

Further, “Father Ted” is also a registered trade mark of television production company Hat Trick Productions Limited, in several classes of goods, including “printed matter”. It’s understood that Hat Trick are considering whether the dinner show unfairly copies the Father Ted mark, or is “passing off” as a show created by Hat Trick.

There is of course an attempt to exclude any liability on the Laughlines website: “The Laughlines Father Ted Dinner Show is a tribute act and does not copy any of the scripted writing created by Graham Linehan & Arthur Matthews [sic] / Hat Trick Productions. The performers [sic] are impersonators only”.

This reminds me of the classic episode where Father Dougal inadvertently gives away his house. Father Ted runs out of options to reclaim it, and before going to sleep in a tent in the back garden he leaves out a pad of paper and a pen.

Father Ted: “It’s a long shot Dougal, but maybe in the morning God will have written out what we should do.”

Father Dougal: “That is a long shot, Ted”

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Martin Sloan

Partner at Brodies LLP
Martin is a partner in Brodies Technology, Information and Outsourcing group and has wide experience of advising clients on technology procurement and IT and business process outsourcing projects. Martin also advises on data protection (including the GDPR), and general technology and intellectual property law, and has a particular interest in the laws applying to social media and new technology such as mobile apps, contactless/mobile payments, and smart metering.
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