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Doctor Who, brands and intellectual property

Last week we reported on how a man in Australia was pursuing action against the BBC for use of the TARDIS. Apparently Doctor Who’s time machine had been conceived, at least in part, to his uncredited father.
The show celebrates its 50th anniversary on Saturday night, and rumours abound that officials Down Under are considering launching an entire campaign to try and entice producers to film large parts of the next series in the world’s largest island. Clearly the original idea for the show was a great one, given its longevity, and as such we’ve been thinking about the value of a fantastic concepts, and who owns it.
From the outset this brings to mind the importance of transparency when it comes to the possession and transference of creative ideas. A freelance writer, for example, should technically own the rights to any work that wasn’t specifically commissioned, unless there is an agreement stipulating otherwise. To put it another way, if an article is pitched after it is written, rather than written at the specific request and to the brief of an editor, the writer owns the content.
Whether they came up with the nous to make the subject interesting for readers doesn’t matter- the fundamental lightbulb moment is what dictates ownership. This is not a cut and dry rule across all disciplines, mind. In advertising, public relations and marketing it’s not uncommon to hear stories of disputes over who owns a campaign, message or tagline- the commissioner or the commissioned? And what about the cases wherein different practitioners come up with similar ideas- where is the line drawn between coincidence and infringement on legal rights?
It’s a grey area for many brands and agencies alike, yet it’s also something that’s fundamentally important for anyone even remotely involved in the creative industries to understand. Two years ago the CIPR launched its own Best Practice Guide for Intellectual Property Rights in a bid to make it easier, and safer for firms to function within the boundaries of the law. Given the sheer amount of content now being created on a daily basis this is clearly a subject more and more professionals in senior (not to mention comms and marketing) positions, from a variety of marketplaces, should be familiar with in order to ensure they fully understand what can be done, and perhaps more importantly, what can’t. After all, a strong idea has always had the potential to last for decades, if not far longer.

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