Thatcher sues BBC for damages over use of 'treachery' interview

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The Independent Online

Lady Thatcher has opened up a new front in her 30-year war on the BBC. The former prime minister is claiming damages and costs against the corporation, alleging it has broadcast one of her most famous phrases hundreds of times without her permission.

Lady Thatcher has opened up a new front in her 30-year war on the BBC. The former prime minister is claiming damages and costs against the corporation, alleging it has broadcast one of her most famous phrases hundreds of times without her permission.

Papers lodged with the High Court in London show that she has teamed up with television presenter Hugh Scully, chairman of the Fine Art television production company, to demand thousands of pounds in damages from the BBC.

Mrs Thatcher and Fine Art share the copyright of her televised memoirsThatcher - The Downing Street Years. Broadcast in the early 1990s, the series was memorable for her depiction of the cabinet rebellion that helped to destroy her leadership as "treachery with a smile on its face". The claim, made against BBC Broadcast and UKTV channel, part-owned by the BBC, alleges the two organisations unlawfully transmitted the clip 407 times in just four days in May last year to advertise a series of programmes billed as "Thatcher Week".

The BBC admits the infringement of copyright and says it has been unable to agreecompensation.

Mr Scully has accused the BBC of bad faith, and said he was astonished the corporation had allowed the matter to come before the High Court. "A licence for the use of our archive in this way was always completely out of the question. Perhaps that is why we were never asked," he said.

However, a spokesman for the BBC said an out-of-court settlement could still be reached. "We have accepted from the word go there was an infringement of copyright," he said. "The infringement was a straightforward error and, given the number of clips all broadcasters use, you will occasionally get one that is not properly checked.

"We hope it will still be possible to reach agreement on the level of damages through negotiation but if it goes to court, we will be happy to let the court decide what a fair market rate is for the use of this footage."

A spokesman for Lady Thatcher and Fine Art said: "The BBC and UKTV have been very well aware of the value of this unique film archive and BBC lawyers gave an undertaking that it would be protected from abuse."

Solicitor Tom Arnot of media firm Harbottle & Lewis, acting for Lady Thatcher and Fine Art, claimed the case could have serious implications for all independent television producers because it struck "at the heart" of copyright protection.