‘Glee’ faces UK TV ban after Briton beats Rupert Murdoch ‘giant’ 20th Century Fox in High Court

Judge rules against media baron’s Twentieth Century Fox in David and Goliath trademark battle

Glee, the popular US television series, could be banned from British screens following a “David and Goliath” legal battle which saw a British businessman successfully sue Rupert Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox studio for infringing his UK trademark.

Mark Tughan, who runs a chain of comedy and music venues called The Glee Club, registered the name as a UK trademark in 1999, 10 years before the TV programme arrived here.

He argued that potential customers were now staying away from his venues because they assumed they were related to the television series about US high-school students who put on musical shows.

A five-day High Court trial in the summer saw senior network executives from 20th Century Fox TV contest the claims, saying they had no prior knowledge of the comedy clubs or their UK trademark. The corporation also sent a  letter to Mr Tughan threatening to seize his personal assets if he lost the case. 

Yesterday, however, after a bitter three-year legal battle, the High Court ruled in Mr Tughan’s favour, arguing that 20th Century Fox had infringed the businessman’s UK trademark. Mr Tughan said he was “relieved” with the verdict, adding: “I’m not sure you can experience jubilation if you’ve been proved right on something that you’ve always believed to be the case.”

The club founder said he hoped other small businesses would take heart from the outcome. “While it is hard, it is not impossible to take on a global giant if you’re in the right,” he said. “The law doesn’t change depending on how much money you’ve got.”

The Glee Club was established in Birmingham in 1994 as the first dedicated comedy venue outside London. It has since opened in Cardiff, Nottingham and Oxford.

Mr Tughan accused 20th Century Fox of tarnishing the brand he had built up. “In the world of entertainment your name, brand, and reputation is everything,” he added. “We built up a reputation carefully over a really long period of time and I found it was being utterly compromised.”

Deputy Judge Roger Wyand, QC, maintained that Fox had infringed The Glee Club’s registered trademark, saying: “I have found there is a likelihood of confusion. Continued use is not in accordance with honest practices.”

The judge also agreed that some potential customers might have been discouraged from visiting Glee Club venues. However, he ruled that 20th Century Fox had not “passed off” Glee as being associated with Glee Club venues, and as such was not convinced that “such confusion is likely to be said to cause damage” to the venues.

A spokeswoman for 20th Century Fox said: “We intend to appeal and are confident that, as the case plays out, we will ultimately prevail.”

The final decision, however, remains with the court. An unsuccessful appeal could mean the removal of the programme from British TV schedules, or even a rebranding of the show itself. CDs, DVDs and music downloads from the show could also be banned from sale.

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