Previous children’s laureate and celebrated author and illustrator Chris Riddell has accused John Lewis’s Moz the Monster Christmas advert of copying of his 1986 book Mr Underbed.
He wrote on social media that the retailer had “helped themselves” to his picture book, which features a large friendly, blue monster living under a child’s bed, and blamed reduced advertising budgets as the reason for the accused plagiarism.
Riddell claims many on social media have pointed out the similarities between his creation and the John Lewis advert and have called foul play. Despite this, the illustrator has stated little appetite for legal action, merely seeking to highlight the problem of accreditation.
For Riddell’s copyright to have been infringed, the John Lewis advert must have been a direct or indirect copy of Mr Underbed. There is a distinction in establishing copyright infringement between the copying of an idea, and the copying of its expression, the latter of which would give rise to infringement. The idea of a monster under a bed is not protectable, but the way in which the story is told may well be.
John Lewis have therefore stated that the story of a large hairy monster living under a child’s bed is a collective story owned by no individual and has noted the difference in both stories’ plots. In Mr Underbed, the child tries to find an alternative sleeping spot for his hairy friend, whilst in John Lewis’s tale, the young boy receives a night light to help him sleep. This alternative narrative arch, say John Lewis, ensures their story is adequately different from Riddell’s.
This is not the first time John Lewis has been accused of copying other stories in their Christmas adverts. The 2014 campaign of a young boy and his friend Morty the penguin was considered a copy of Oliver Jeffer’s Lost and Found from 2005. The retailer in that instance argued that stories incorporating penguins at Christmas are not new and felt that their tale of friendship was entirely unique.
Riddell seems to have taken a light hearted approach to the Moz the Monster ad, saying John Lewis have devoted their campaign to his picture book.