John Lewis Christmas Advert In High Court Showdown

Retail giant John Lewis is set for a High Court showdown in an unprecedented legal battle over its famous Christmas advert.

Children’s author Fay Evans is suing John Lewis Plc and the creative team behind its critically acclaimed 2019 Christmas advert, Excitable Edgar in what legal experts have called a ‘David versus Goliath’ copyright case. Fay Evans claims the retailer’s TV commercial bears a ‘striking similarity’ to her debut picture book, Fred The Fire-Sneezing Dragon, which she self published in September 2017. 

The copyright infringement claim was served on joint defendants John Lewis Plc and its advertising agency DDB UK Limited (trading as adam&eve) in November 2021. A trial date has now been announced, with the case set to be heard on 30 and 31 January 2023 in the specialist Intellectual Property division of the High Court of Justice, the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC). 

The trial follows 12 months of legal wrangling, including Disclosure of supporting documents and witness statements from both parties in the claim.

Claimant Fay Evans, 49, says: “The legal process over the past year has proved very enlightening and I’m feeling more confident than ever in the validity of my claim. I’ve received an overwhelming amount of public support and I’m proud to be taking a stand for fellow creative artists – including authors, illustrators and musicians – whether they are relatively unknown or at the top of their game, the same principle applies. The original creative work we strive with all our heart to develop and publish is fundamentally protected by the law of copyright.”

Fay Evans is being represented by law firm Brandsmiths, Intellectual Property Litigation specialists for brands and entrepreneurs. In November 2021, a spokesperson for John Lewis said they were ‘surprised’ to have been served legal papers, stating that they would be ‘robustly defending the claim’.

Following the online release of the John Lewis Christmas advert in 2019, many fans of the Cheshire-based children’s author and storyteller immediately took to social media to point out the clear resemblance between Edgar, a little green dragon with a fiery affliction, and the heartwarming tale of Fred The Fire-Sneezing Dragon.

Since publishing her debut picture book in 2017, Fay Evans has undertaken author visits to hundreds of UK primary schools. Together with her second illustrated rhyming story Bob’s Beard, and her latest picture book, Dave The Whale, she has sold in excess of 3,000 books, including online sales via Amazon. 

Fay is currently working with theatre industry partners to produce  Fred: The Musical an interactive musical theatre show for young children based on her book, Fred The Fire-Sneezing Dragon. The show is set to make its stage debut at theatre festivals in 2023.

Fay Evans’ 2017 book Fred The Fire-Sneezing Dragon is an illustrated rhyming story about a little green dragon that causes chaos with his uncontrollable fiery emissions. The solitary dragon is scorned by the human folk around him, until he wins their admiration at the end of the story by emitting a blast of fire which cooks food to perfection.

Fay Evans says: “When I watched the John Lewis Christmas advert for the first time back in November 2019, I was gobsmacked – I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing unfold before me. The visual resemblance to the main character in Fred The Fire-Sneezing Dragon and the narrative similarity throughout was striking.”

She adds: “As soon as the Excitable Edgar advert was released online, I was inundated with messages from friends, followers and fans of fire-sneezing Fred. Even a two-year-old girl recognised the dragon in the John Lewis advert as Fred, the main character from her favourite book, when she watched it on TV with her mum. I was also contacted by a primary school teacher who told me her entire class of six and seven year olds genuinely thought that Fred had made it on to television.”

Shocked by the likeness, Evans posted on social media showing an illustration from her book alongside one from the Excitable Edgar picture book, published to accompany the two-and-a-half minute advert. She invited followers to ‘spot the difference’ and generated thousands of social media shares and hundreds of supportive comments.

Photo by Tanya Lloyd