Author claims John Lewis took idea about lonely fire-sneezing dragon

Children’s author, 49, claims retail giant John Lewis pinched her idea about a lonely fire-sneezing dragon for its 2019 Christmas ad campaign in ‘David vs Goliath’ legal fight

  • John Lewis’ lawyers claim the  book was published a year after they pitched
  • Under scrutiny is the  ad and its ‘spin-off’ book ‘Edgar the Excitable Dragon’

A children’s author is fighting a court battle with retail giant John Lewis over claims it pinched her idea about a lonely, fire-sneezing dragon for its iconic Christmas ad campaign.

Fay Evans is suing over John Lewis Plc’s 2019 Christmas advert campaign, featuring a clumsy young dragon said to be ‘very similar’ to the hero of her own book, ‘Fred the Fire-sneezing Dragon’.

Under the spotlight in the High Court clash are the Yuletide ad and its ‘spin-off’ book ‘Edgar the Excitable Dragon,’ which was published by John Lewis.

Ms Evans, who is claiming damages for breach of copyright, had self-published her own dragon-themed illustrated book in 2017 and insists there were ‘striking similarities’ between her creation and the John Lewis dragon.

Fay Evans, 49, from Macclesfield, Cheshire, released the self-published picture book Fred the Fire-Sneezing Dragon in September 2017

She claims the 2019 Christmas campaign advert bears a ‘striking similarity’ to her book about a fire-breathing dragon

Both Fred and Edgar begin their stories as sad, lonely dragons, who annoy humans by torching trees and melting children’s snowmen, only to end up making friends by cooking meals using their fiery breath.

But lawyers for John Lewis say her case is ‘misconceived’ and that she had released her book in 2017, a year after its creatives began pitching ideas for a ‘lonely dragon’ advert.

Her case hinges around proving that those behind the advert had ‘access’ to Fred the Dragon before they started brainstorming ideas, said John Lewis barrister Michael Hicks.

‘But the defendants’ evidence is that those responsible for the Christmas ad and Excitable Edgar did not see or even know of the existence of Fred the Fire-sneezing Dragon at the time,’ he said.

‘Therefore, they could not have copied anything from Fred the Fire-sneezing Dragon.’

Her case hinges around proving that those behind the advert had ‘access’ to Fred the Dragon before they started brainstorming ideas, said John Lewis barrister Michael Hicks

John Lewis said it will ‘robustly’ defend itself against the claims, saying the concept for their advert was presented to them in early 2016 – a year and seven months before Ms Evans published her book

The High Court battle began in London this week, with Ms Evans’ barrister, Kendal Watkinson, sketching out a series of alleged similarities, which she claimed were evidence of copying.

Both creatures are presented as ‘cute and loveable’, explained Ms Watkinson, although adding: ‘but they are depicted as being sad and forlorn at the start due to the fact that they all accidentally emit fire, which is something they are unable to control’.

‘The dragons in issue are lone dragons integrated in human society, but they irritate the humans due to their uncontrollable fiery emissions.’

Each storyline shared ‘various destructive fire-breathing incidents’, said Ms Watkinson, including the demolition of a snowman built by children and trees being scorched.

And each plotline wrapped up with the dragons in question using their flame breath to cook food for grateful humans, with Edgar the Dragon firing up a Christmas pudding, she told Judge Melissa Clarke.

‘There is a constructive fire-breathing incident at the end, in which the setting is a gathering of people eating around a table and involves the dragon in issue cooking food for the people with his fiery emissions, much to their delight,’ she said.

The John Lewis ad – produced in partnership with Waitrose – depicts Edgar’s troubles as he accidentally melts an ice rink and sets fire to a Christmas tree.

He feels shunned by humans due to his fire-breathing accidents, but he and the local villagers finally hit it off when he uses his incendiary powers to cook up the festive pudding.

Ms Evans, from Macclesfield, Cheshire, says she was ‘gobsmacked’ when she first saw the disputed advert in 2019, commenting in an earlier interview: ‘I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing unfold before me’.

After the ad’s launch, she was ‘inundated with messages expressing shock over the similarities between the claimant’s book and the Christmas advert’, her barrister also explained.

The John Lewis advert, produced in partnership with sister company Waitrose, follows Edgar as his excitement about festivities in his village sees him accidentally melt the ice-rink, reduce a snowman to a puddle and set fire to a Christmas tree

Ms Watkinson said the advert and ‘Excitable Edgar’ were ‘not alleged to be an exact reproduction of the whole or part of Ms Evans’ book’.

The alleged similarities were at ‘various levels of generality’, she said, but claimed that John Lewis ‘have copied elements of the expression of intellectual creation contained in Ms Evans’ book’.

But Mr Hicks, for John Lewis, took issue with claims of any ‘striking similarities’ between the two friendly monsters, adding that many other authors have dreamt up similar plot lines involving lonely outcast dragons.

‘She seems to ignore the existence of commonplace perceptions as to what dragons look like or that the Christmas ad and Excitable Edgar need to have a child-friendly appearance,’ he argued.

Edgar finally shuts himself away in despair, but his friend Ava encourages him to rejoin the village with the gift of a Christmas pudding, which allows him to put his fire to perfect use

‘Furthermore, others have had the idea of a story about a dragon that for one reason or another can’t control its fire.’

On top of everything else, there was no reason for John Lewis or the ad agency it used to borrow from Ms Evans, as they deployed their own teams of award-winning creatives, said the barrister.

‘Her case faces the significant problem that there is no rational reason why the defendants would want or need to copy anything of hers,’ added Mr Hicks.

‘Although Ms Evans’ claim is misconceived, she has lost no opportunity to publicise her complaint, to garner publicity for herself as an author and her book on the back of her claim and to attack the defendants,’ he added.

Ms Evans says she produced the first draft of her rhyming dragon story in 2015, with illustrations by Lisa Wilson.

Her book was performed live for the first time at a networking event in January 2017, and offered for sale at its official launch in September 2017.

During this time, she also did live readings at 75 primary schools across England, drawing in a total audience of around 9,000.

Ms Evans is suing for damages, but the size of the payout she is seeking has not been disclosed.

The trial continues.

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