As I tucked into my breakfast, tablet in hand, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that the son of 100,000BC writer Anthony Coburn is challenging the BBC over a breach of copyright concerning the TARDIS.
The police box shell was apparently chosen by Coburn senior as the disguise for the Doctor’s space-time ship under direction from other writers and production staff involved prior to Coburn’s involvement to create an everyday outward appearance. Son Stef claims inspiration struck during a walk in the park in which his father spotted two police boxes closely positioned.
(Whether non-fan Stef Coburn is simply confusing this event with Logopolis isn’t currently known.)
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 quite wrong to suggest that the timing of this action is in any way related to Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary. However, it does seem likely. We’ve also been informed by a couple of sources that BBC Four’s intended broadcast of An Unearthly Child and the rest of the 100,000BC serial has been scuppered by Stef Coburn, for similar reasons.
So how has this ridiculous situation been allowed to come about? In the vast majority of cases of working TV scriptwriters in the early days of TV, episodes were written as a “work for hire” with all rights owned by the contracting party (the BBC). As such, no rights would belong to the author other than characters that may be reused later – as seen in cases such as Henry Lincoln and Mervyn Haisman creating the Brigadier, or Terry Nation with his Daleks. In these situation, small fees are paid to the creators or their families/estates.
We can be 99% certain that the concept of the TARDIS was created prior to Coburn’s involvement – we have 50 years of documentary evidence, first and second hand. We also know that the Police Box shape trademark is owned by the BBC, and has been since 1998. So what case does Coburn have? After all, the TARDIS isn’t a character, is it?
Ah. Thanks to Neil Gaiman and previous BBC Books authors, the TARDIS has indeed become a character over the years. This could be interpreted as Coburn having created a character all those years ago, which has then been regularly reused. Coburn junior is claiming reparations dating back to his father’s death in 1977.
Adding to the confusion is the possibility that Coburn had a non-standard BBC writer’s contract at the time.
As money-grabbing, cynical claims go, this one is perhaps be more suited to a reality TV courtroom. Frankly, we think this guy has more chance of winning against an organization as well-documented as the BBC.
(Via The Independent | Thanks to Phil)