15 November 2021CopyrightMuireann Bolger

John Lewis denies copying song in Xmas ad

John Lewis is facing claims of plagiarism over the musical arrangement it chose for its 2021 Christmas advert featuring the 1980’s electro-pop song “ Together In Electric Dreams”.

A husband and wife duo who perform as folk band The Portraits claimed on Facebook that the retailer’s version bears a close resemblance to their own rendition of the song, released as a charity single last year.

In the accusatory statement posted on November 7, Jeremy and Lorraine Millington wrote: “Our version was a fundraising song aimed at supporting bereavement and mental health organisations that have needed the money more than ever during the pandemic.

“We had a (perhaps naive) dream that we could use a future ad by the company with our soundtrack linked to it to maximise the funds going to those charities.

“But instead, John Lewis went with the idea and produced a version borrowing the 'feeling' and many elements of the arrangement of our version, without even letting us know they were planning to do so.”

In a statement issued to the media, John Lewis rejected the claims, insisting there was “no substance” to the allegations.

“The music that accompanies the ad is always the final element to be added and this year was chosen at the end of October. The creation of advertising and music is carried out solely by our agency and we are unable to read or consider ideas from other external or internal sources,” a spokesperson said.

The John Lewis advert has become a cultural staple of the UK festive season, and this year’s incarnation, “ Unexpected Guest”, follows the journey of a young boy who befriends an alien.

‘Eye off the ball’

Commenting on the development, Mark Kramer, litigation and licensing partner at European IP law firm, Potter Clarkson, said:

“While the two tracks are undoubtedly similar, this is unsurprising considering they are derived from the same source. This style of musical arrangement, commonly used in the annual John Lewis Christmas advertising campaign, is long-established and, for that reason, there’s a good chance that this is not a deliberate copy of The Portraits’ version of ‘Together in Electric Dreams’.”

He added that while “subconscious” copying still overcomes the copyright infringement hurdle, it will still be difficult for The Portraits to convince the courts that John Lewis has copied a substantial part of its arrangement. “The Portraits are likely to need a musicologist to assert that the arrangements are more similar than coincidence would allow, and that the creator of John Lewis’ version is likely to have been exposed to The Portraits ‘original’”.

But he noted that it “still feels that John Lewis has taken its eyes off the ball”.

He said: “Given the high-profile nature of its annual Christmas advertising campaign, pursuing a song choice that has so recently been licensed to another artist, especially one focused upon charitable fundraising, is perhaps naïve. While John Lewis may well be able to defend itself before the courts, the inherent similarity between the tracks may not sit well with the public.”

In their Facebook post, the Millingtons held that they were “David” to the retailer’s “Goliath” but that they were determined to seek further advice on what action to take. “It seems only fitting that John Lewis are asked, at the highest level possible, to put right their side,” they wrote.

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