Court showdown in Moth Club copyright case | Comic Harry Deansway claims Steve Coogan's company copied his ideas © UKTV

Court showdown in Moth Club copyright case

Comic Harry Deansway claims Steve Coogan's company copied his ideas

The copyright case alleging that Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow ‘blatantly copied’ the elements of its Dave show Live At The Moth Club is going to trial.

Comedian Harry Deansway is suing the firm, owned by BBC Studios, saying that key elements of the show – which mixed on-stage performances with fictionalised behind-the-scenes sketches – were lifted from his 2013 YouTube series Shambles.

Baby Cow reject the claims and said: 'Live At The Moth Club is an original work and the claim is being fully defended.'

The idea of peeking backstage is nothing new, and has featured in everything from The Muppet Show to the 1991 series Packet Of Three, featuring Frank Skinner, Jenny Eclair and Henry Normal – who went on to set up Baby Cow with Coogan, although he no longer works there.

However, Deansway has cited 100 specific points that he claims Live At The Moth Club has in common with his show, including characters, storylines, jokes and settings.

And the case is further complicated as Deansway and Rupert Majendie – Baby Cow’s head of comedy and creator of the Dave show, who is also named as a defendant in the court case – knew each other from the circuit. 

They ran a comedy night called Pitchcock and Bentshoe together in around 2008, while Majendie acted as the booker for a comedy night called The Fix Presents that Deansway promoted in 2009.

Majendie and Heap

Deansway says an early version of the show was even pitched to Majendie (pictured above with Live At The Moth Club star Mark Heap) when he was a development producer at the BBC, long before Live At The Moth Club aired in late 2022.

After failing to come to an out-of-court settlement, the case is now pencilled to go to trial in October – with Deansway describing it as a ‘David And Goliath clash’ and accepting that he stands to lose thousands of pounds if he loses. 

Deansway – whose real name is Joshua Rinkoff– said: ‘It is extremely disappointing that my friend Rupert Majendie, head of comedy at Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow should have copied my original work like this without so much as courtesy call.  That it was done by a friend and collaborator in the industry is just deeply saddening. 

‘What makes it so much worse is that by standing up for my principles I am having to go head-to-head with every comedian’s comic idol Steve Coogan, I can’t help wondering how he would have felt if someone had copied one of his early characters when he was just starting out and then tried to allege that this was perfectly legal. 

‘I’ve been shocked and appalled by Baby Cow's strategy of denial when in my opinion the show has been so obviously copied"

When the legal action was first launched in June last year, some of the similarities cited were that

  1. Live at the Moth Club has exactly the same setting as Shambles in a dilapidated comedy club;
  2. Just like Shambles, Live at the Moth Club blends live performances in front of real audiences with fictional sitcom material featuring characters behind-the-scenes;
  3. The same fly-on-the-wall documentary techniques are used in Live At The Moth Club as Shambles, including the use of handheld cameras, to lend the material realism but also contributing a dry humour to the series;
  4.  The protagonist, Ellen Bryant, is a comedy night promoter, who like Harry in Shambles, struggles each night to put on a successful show;
  5. The venue owner, George Lambert, a hapless character who just like Greg in Shambles, often inadvertently acts to frustrate the smooth operation of the comedy night;
  6.  An intern character, Freddie, who like Joe or Toby in Shambles, also makes things difficult for the protagonist;
  7. Two marketing and PR specialists, Zebedee and Cress, who like the agents and producers in Shambles, come up with surreal and bad ideas;
  8.  The overall combination of these features giving rise to a sitcom with a markedly similar tone and feeling to the original Shamble

 The case also says the two shows share a number of specific plot similarities, namely:

  1. A joke about an intern being forced to write material for one of the stand-ups. 
  2. The club owner repeatedly being portrayed with tools in both series, to highlight the dilapidated state of the venue;
  3. A joke that the lights do not work in the comedy club
  4.  A joke about a headliner pulling out of the comedy act, midway through their performance.

Deansway  – real name Joshua Rinkoff – previously ran The Fix comedy magazine, which left him with a £30,000 debt, and was briefly comedy editor of The Guardian Guide. He subsequently ran the video site Raybot – which distributed the Shambles series.

In 2019, he raised £1,000 from crowdfunding to release a special. However the recording was a disaster and he threw the footage into a canal. Some of the backers set up their own fundraiser to seek a county-court judgement against Deansway, claiming it was ‘an elaborate scheme to extort money from innocent comedy fans’. Deansway then set up a second crowdfunder to refund the original backers.

Shambles featured comedy circuit regulars such as John KearnsBrian Gittins, Nat Luurtsema and  Joz Norris with its most-watched episode boasting  2,300 views.

Deansway has instructed Keystone Law’s media litigation partner Lawrence Abramson to represent him.

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Published: 3 Apr 2024

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