The immortal show from the 1990s came live when people learnt that a same themed restaurant came into being. The theme as unoriginal as it can be is brilliantly put to commercial use. The idea as put to use successfully violates the intellectual property rights of the National Broadcasting Company, the producer of t he sitcom.
As we have always known about the idea-expression dichotomy, that ideas cannot be copyrighted. However, the same idea can be developed in a different manner altogether. But what must be considered that such statement should not be interpreted too literally. Thus, if the café merely possessed elements similar to those used in the show, there would not have been any case of infringement.
However, because the café’s expression of the idea is substantially similar to that of the show, such that through the incorporation of the characters and exclusive elements from the show as a part of its interiors and general set-up, it is basically a literal imitation of everything about the sitcom, and thus amounts to a violation of NBC’s rights.
For instance, if inspired by the Harry Potter movie series, somebody started a bistro that had a wizard-themed set up, they wouldn’t be liable for infringing Warner Bros copyright just because the ideas behind the two were striking similar – however, if they used distinctive visual specifics (like a direct ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Hogwarts’ or ‘Voldemort’ reference) from the movies, it would necessarily constitute an infringement.
It is worthwhile to note that because the word ‘FRIENDS’ is in itself a common dictionary term, capable of being adopted as a trademark only on account of the secondary distinctiveness that the word has come to acquire since the show first began airing, it is the use of the word as a ‘logo’ in the specific style that it appears on the show that would render it really worthwhile to pursue the claim.
Ordinarily, one would assume that because the actors in the sitcom aren’t playing themselves, but are instead enacting fictional characters created by another, the right of publicity is absent and all that remains is the copyright in the characters themselves, which is essentially vested in the show’s producer as the likely owner of the copyright. Which brings us back to the question – can actors at all claim publicity rights in the characters that they portray? In this regard, we may cite McFarland v Miller wherein it was viewed that “Where an actor’s screen persona becomes so associated with him that it becomes inseparable from the actor’s own public image, the actor obtains an interest in the image which gives him standing to prevent mere interlopers from using it without authority.”
Thus it may be rightly put that opening eateries identically themed on the idea of a sitcom does successfully attract a case of infringement.