JHP Limited v (1) BBC Worldwide Limited (2) Trustees of the Estate of Terry Nation [2008] EWHC 757 (Ch)

16 April 2008

Terry Nation created the characters called ‘Daleks’ for the BBC television series of Dr. Who. The Claimant, a book production company, made an agreement with Nation to publish three of his books about Daleks in the 1960s. Nation still developed stories about Daleks with the BBC before and after his agreement with JHP and after Nation’s death JHP suggested that the BBC and JHP work together with the new material that the BBC had written. The BBC sought permission from Nation’s estate and reached an agreement, although informally. JHP then withdrew from the project. When the BBC released their new book relating to the Daleks JHP then argued that they were either the exclusive licensee or the assignee of the copyright in each of the books that JHP had published and as such the BBC was infringing their copyright. The court held that the first agreement between JHP and Nation was a limited exclusive licence for JHP to publish the first book and that it was inherently improbable that Nation would have transferred the absolute property of the copyright of the proposed work whilst he was also working to create further scripts about Daleks with the BBC. The court said that similarly it was not agreed that the copyright in the 2nd and 3rd books would be assigned to JHP. The court went on to say that even if the BBC had infringed JHP’s exclusive licence, the BBC had a complete defence because (according to the trustees of Terry Nation’s estate) the BBC acted in the belief that it had the permission of the estate to use the licence. JHP had not succeeded in proving their alternative claim of copying as there was only an insubstantial amount of copying and the only reason there was similarities between the old books and the new book was because they were both writing about the material from the television series. Mr. Justice Norris handed down his judgment in April 2008 from the Trial heard in October 2007.