“Visual Creator” Sues the BBC for £2m for Copyright Infringement

Images (with apologies) via the UK Daily Mail

Here we go again. This time from the UK, where Michael Mitchell is suing the BBC for copyright infringement over a show called Kerwhizz, which he claims is based on his idea, Bounce Bunch. From the Guardian article:

 Michael Mitchell told the high court on Thursday that he was shocked in 2009 when his daughter noticed that three characters in the CBeebies show Kerwhizz bore “striking similarities” to his own cartoons.

Mitchell suggested that the BBC copied the characters – known in the show as Ninka, Twist and Kit – after they were uploaded to his own personal website in 2004…….

……Mitchell claims the Kerwhizz character “Ninki” was derived from a combination of his two characters Simrita and Jomo, that “Twist” was copied from his character Charlie and that “Kit” is a version of his character Yana. Outside court he told journalists that he had sent the characters to the BBC directly as a proposal package in October 2007, but had been rejected.

So, judging from the two pictures at the top, is there a case for infringement, bearing in mind that it focuses only on the three human characters in Kerwhizz?

The similarities are obvious:

  • they’re human
  • they’re kids
  • wearing brightly coloured spacesuits of some kind
  • wearing headband microphone
  • of multiple ethnicity

The only problem is that these traits can’t be considered under infringement. Why? They’re too ubiquitous and easily conceivable. The closest thing would be the brightly coloured suits but even then giving characters their own coloured clothing is nothing new.

Presuming that the similarities are generic enough to be precluded from the case, the next avenue open to Mitchell is to prove that the BBC used his show as a direct influence for creating Kerwhizz.

Now this is where it gets interesting, because Mitchell sent an unsolicited package that was rejected. As most studios will tell you, they send any unsolicited idea back unopened to eliminate precisely this scenario. The BBC should have been smart enough to do this, so this route can probably be rejected.

That leaves only the fact that Mitchell posted the Bounce Bunch online at some point prior to the launch of Kerwhizz. What form this took is not specified. Was it development art or full animation? Does it make a difference? Probably not. There seems to be enough difference between the shows themselves that Mitchell focuses only on the characters.

The really tricky aspect to this development is whether or not Mitchell can prove conclusively that someone from the BBC in the same department that created Kerwhizz saw or had access to the Bounce Bunch page.

This could be next to impossible to prove and the details are still sealed in court documents so we won’t know for sure until judgement, but I would hazard a guess that Mitchell doesn’t have the substantial proof he needs.

It’s always disheartening when you feel that someone else has copied your design (not idea, remember you can’t copyright those), especially a corporation as large as the BBC, but that does not preclude them from coming up with similar designs, although I would argue that even then, substantial differences exist.

In this particular case, if there really was any chance that the BBC ripped Mitchell off, then a settlement would have been reached by now.

It’s unfortunately just another example of why animators and developers need to be aware of the nature of copyright and what it does and does not cover.

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