Son Of Writer Of First Episode Of Doctor Who Now Claiming Copyright On The Tardis
from the time and relative dementia in copyright dept
It’s amazing the stories that find me these days. Apparently, a guy named Stef Coburn, whose father Tony Coburn wrote the very first episode of Doctor Who, is claiming copyright on the Tardis, the iconic police phone booth that is also Doctor Who’s mode of transportation (through time and space, of course). The younger Coburn claims that his father came up with the idea for the Tardis and told his children about it over the dinner table. He then takes it a step further and claims the informal agreement his father had with the BBC expired upon his death (which happened way back in 1977), at which point the rights transferred to his mother, who has since passed them on to him. He’s now demanding that he get paid for every use of the Tardis since his father’s death.
“It is by no means my wish to deprive legions of Doctor Who fans (of whom I was never one) of any aspect of their favourite children’s programme. The only ends I wish to accomplish, by whatever lawful means present themselves, involve bringing about the public recognition that should by rights always have been his due, of my father James Anthony Coburn’s seminal contribution to Doctor Who, and proper lawful recompense to his surviving estate.”
It would be great to get some UK copyright lawyers to weigh in on the specifics, but it seems like there are a bunch of interrelated issues here, none of which bode well for Coburn’s claim. There’s a question of whether there’s even a legitimate copyright here at all (copyright is supposed to be on expression, not ideas)? If there is a legitimate copyright, would it even have belonged to Coburn and not the producers of the show he was hired to write for? If it did belong to him and not the producers, what was the nature of the contract — formal or informal — between them and was there any indication that it would end upon his death? And, of course, there’s the only issue of laches, for not doing a damn thing about this for 35 years. It seems fairly likely that nearly all of those questions are likely to be answered in a way that favors the BBC and not the younger Coburn.
Once again, though, it seems like yet another case where the popular myth of copyright — that it’s about “ownership” of some “creation” — leads to this kind misguided attack.