…Cuz he can.
Enjoy, bullshit lovers:
According to the Independent. “Mr Coburn’s son [Stef Coburn] claims that the BBC has been in breach of copyright since his father’s death in 1977. He has demanded that the corporation either stop using the Tardis in the show or pay his family for its every use since then. Stef Coburn claims that upon his father’s death, any informal permission his father gave the BBC to use his work expired and the copyright of all of his ideas passed to his widow, Joan. Earlier this year she passed it on to him.”
According to Coburn, “It is by no means my wish to deprive legions of Doctor Who fans (of whom I was never one) of any aspect of their favourite children’s programme. The only ends I wish to accomplish, by whatever lawful means present themselves, involve bringing about the public recognition that should by rights always have been his due, of my father James Anthony Coburn’s seminal contribution to Doctor Who, and proper lawful recompense to his surviving estate.”
“The BBC says it is looking into the complaint, but that there have been no challenges to the copyright since it registered it in the 1980s. Mr Coburn says he would have taken action earlier had he owned the rights…To mark the show’s birthday, the BBC will show a one-off dramatisation of how the programme came to be created. Mr Coburn said he was “extremely angry” that the programme excludes his father.”
There’s a welter of issues here. It is true that Anthony Coburn came up with the idea of the police box disguise for the TARDIS, but he certainly didn’t invent the time travel machine concept – that was set in stone long before Coburn came on the scene – and Anthony technically didn’t create the police box either, which was trademarked to the Metropolitan Police. Who had a much better claim to copyright when they tried suing in the 90s and still ended up having to pay expenses to the BBC (no, we can’t quite account for why the BBC statement says there’s not been a challenge before, although it’s paraphrased so they may simply have meant there’d never been a challenge from a Coburn before.)
A court might very well throw the case out simply for exceeding any reasonable statue of limitations, as indeed the court did in the Metropolitan police case. Presuming that Coburn senior could have established a copyright at all, which wasn’t necessarily the case for BBC writers who were often asked to hand over rights to their ideas and characters as a matter of course. In fact, it’s rather difficult to figure out from this article what exactly Stef Coburn thinks he can establish rights to. Perhaps just the TARDIS acronym? Because if the UNIT dispute with the United Nations was anything to go by, the BBC will just invent a new backronym and use that instead, and at long last fandom will have that dispute about whether it’s “relative dimensions” or “dimension” settled once and for all.