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John Lewis wins court battle against author who sued over Christmas ad

Chloe Burney
03 April 2023

John Lewis is once again back in the media after winning a court case against Children’s author Fay Evans, who alleged that the retailer had copied her book for its 2019 Excitable Edgar TV campaign.

Fay Evans brought a case for copyright infringement, alleging that there was a "striking similarity" between her children's book, Fred the Fire-Sneezing Dragon, and John Lewis’s 2019 Christmas ad featuring a trouble-making animated dragon.

On Monday, Judge Clarke ruled that the retailer’s advert, which was turned into an accompanying book by Nosy Crow, did not infringe Evans’ copyright.

Evans’s book, which she published in 2017, is a story about a dragon whose fiery sneezes cause chaos. John Lewis’s advert, however, followed Edgar the dragon, who melted a snowman and burned down a Christmas tree in town.

Evans sued John Lewis and its advertising agency Adam&EveDDB, who the company recently parted ways with. However, Judge Clarke said in the ruling that: "there can be no copyright infringement without copying, and there can be no copying if the work alleged to have been copied has not been accessed (ie seen, in this case) by those said to have copied it".

Clarke said that the similarities between Fred the Fire-Sneezing Dragon and the John Lewis advert were "few in number and can easily be explained by coincidence rather than copying".

The judge said there was "not a scrap of evidence" that John Lewis its marketing team had access to Evans’s book, which had sold fewer than a 1,000 copies by October 2019, mostly to primary schools in the north-west of England.

According to the Guardian, the idea for the Christmas ad was found to conjured up by a creative at John Lewis’s agency in 2016, before the book was published in 2017.

While John Lewis and Adam&EveDDB "exit this litigation without the slightest hint or shadow of a stain on their creative integrity", Evans was ordered to publish the judgment on her website after admitting, in part, that she used the claim for self-publicity.

After releasing several press releases to the media, Evans was accused of using the scandal to “promote the sale of her books and the financing of a proposed musical based on FFD [Fred the Fire-Sneezing Dragon].”

Evans commented: "From today I’m looking forward to writing more original stories for children and developing Fred The Musical, ready for its premiere in July 2023 at the Liverpool Theatre Festival."

John Lewis and Adam&EveDDB said in a joint statement: "We take great pride and care with our Christmas adverts and we’re glad the judge recognised the originality of Excitable Edgar. We’re pleased that the matter is now resolved after the court found that there was no copyright infringement."

This follows the news that advertising agency Adam&EveDDB declined to re-pitch to John Lewis for its Christmas advertisement campaign, marking the end of an 14-year partnership.

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