John Lewis: Christmas, Cover Songs & Copyright Claims

John Lewis: Christmas, Cover Songs & Copyright Claims

Key Contact: Cordelia Payne

Author: Adam Munn

A musical duo – Jeremy and Lorraine Millington – otherwise known as The Portraits, have accused John Lewis of copying their version of a song in its latest Christmas advert.

The advert is titled ‘Unexpected Guest’ and tells the story of a friendship between a young boy and an alien visitor. Throughout the advert, the young boy can be seen showing the alien visitor a variety of Christmas traditions, whilst a slowed down version of Philip Oakey’s and Giorgio Moroder’s ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ plays in the background.

So, how do The Portraits fit into this? Well, Last Christmas (pun intended), The Portraits released their own cover version of the 1985 smash hit, in order to support and raise money for bereavement and mental health organisations, Mind and Crus Bereavement Care. The cover song featured on BBC radio, ITV’s This Morning and Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine show. Not stopping there, in March of this year, The Portraits emailed John Lewis’ marketing team a copy of the song and suggested that it may be used in one of their adverts. It was hoped that any collaboration between the two parties could help maximize the funds raised for the charities, but The Portraits did not receive a response.

Fast forward to now with the release of the new Christmas advert, The Portraits have claimed that John Lewis have “borrowed the ‘feeling’ and many elements of the arrangement of [their] version” without any acknowledgement. As a result, The Portraits have asked John Lewis to honor their version of the song by making a donation to the charities, Mind and Crus Bereavement Care. 

In response to the accusations made by The Portraits, John Lewis have denied any wrongdoing, citing that “there is no substance to the claims” and that the individual who was emailed the song in March 2020 has since left the organisation but in any event, was not involved in the making of this year’s Christmas ad campaign. They have therefore rejected the request made on behalf of The Portraits, further citing that they already support numerous charities.

The news marks the second time this year whereby John Lewis have had to defend allegations of intellectual property infringement. As recently as last week, it has been reported that an author of a self-published children’s book about an over excitable dragon that causes havoc with its fiery sneezes, is suing John Lewis for copyright infringement over its 2019 Christmas ad about a trouble-making dragon (which you guessed it, gets up to his own flaming mischief). 

In order to prove copyright infringement, The Portraits would need to prove amongst other things, that John Lewis had had access to their arrangement of the song which John Lewis deny.  If their email to John Lewis’ now ex-employee is enough, similarities between the two songs would be compared to assess whether or not they are qualitatively speaking substantially similar to the extent that they would be indicative of copying. In my view, I think that the two songs are suspiciously similar and The Portraits’ may have a potential claim for copyright infringement should they take any further action.

In light of this past year, it would seem only right for John Lewis to practice the message of their Christmas advert by donating to these wonderful charities and ‘show them how Christmas is done’.

If you would like some expert advice about how to protect your business’ intellectual property, please contact Cordelia Payne at [email protected].

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