Just a week after its release, the John Lewis Christmas advert has been targeted with claims of plagiarism by alt-folk duo, The Portraits, who released their version of the song Together in Electric Dreams in 2020 to raise money for bereavement and mental health charities.
Mark Kramer, litigation and licensing partner at European intellectual property law firm, Potter Clarkson, said:
Whilst the two tracks are undoubtedly similar, considering they are derived from the same source this is of course unsurprising. This style of musical arrangement, commonly used in the annual John Lewis Christmas advertising campaign, is long-established and, for that reason, there’s a good chance that this is not a deliberate copy of The Portraits’ version of ‘Together in Electric Dreams’.
“Whilst ‘subconscious’ copying still overcomes the copyright infringement hurdle, it will still be difficult for The Portraits to convince the courts that John Lewis has copied a substantial part of its arrangement. The Portraits are likely to need a musicologist to assert that the arrangements are more similar than coincidence would allow, and that the creator of John Lewis’ version is likely to have been exposed to The Portraits ‘original’.
“Even so, it still feels that John Lewis has taken its eyes off the ball here. Given the high-profile nature of their annual Christmas advertising campaign, pursuing a song choice that has so recently been licensed to another artist, especially one focussed upon charitable fundraising, is perhaps naïve. Whilst John Lewis may well be able to defend itself before the courts, the inherent similarity between the tracks may not sit well with the public."