Article October 12, 2021

A new spin on old classics

Roald Dahl is set to be reinvented after Netflix bought the rights to the author’s books from his family. The deal builds on a previous arrangement in which the media giant was permitted to make animated programmes based on some of Dahl’s work.

The latest accounts from The Roald Dahl Story Company show that in 2019 it generated revenues of £26m from the author’s writing. Media reports suggest there are already 19 television programmes, films, stage shows and live experiences in the pipeline.

In the months ahead we are all going to become a lot more familiar with Dahl’s imaginative tales, as stories such as The Twits, James and the Giant Peach and Danny, the Champion of the World are re-worked and re-told to a new generation of fans.

The deal is symptomatic of the entertainment industry’s desire to squeeze value out of proven classics, rather than risk its resources on unknown characters.

Negotiating the ownership of IP rights for these franchises is big business. In addition to the deal for Dahl’s content, there have also been other high-profile contracts signed in recent years. Star Wars, Marvel and Harry Potter are just some of the names to come under new ownership and licensing agreements. 

These deals cover multiple assets, the creation of new content and its subsequent licensing, sale and distribution across a wide range of geographies and channels. The contracts are detailed, highly technical and can lead to high-profile disputes.

In addition to the companies that own the IP to a particular franchise – wholly or in part – there are then a growing number of third parties using the IP under licensing agreements such as toy manufacturers and fashion retailers.   

The global licensing market is estimated to be worth more than $280bn per annum and the insurance market has become more attuned to the exposures created by such agreements. In turn, it has designed insurance policies designed specifically to protect those operating in this sector.

The key exposures covered by such policies include:

  • Intellectual property infringement (defence and subrogation)
  • Selling in unauthorised channels and/or territorial breaches
  • Breaching an agreed use of licence
  • Regulatory issues under competition laws relating to exclusive licences
  • Assignment and sub licensing and errors that could occur with those transfers
  • Marketing and advertising requirements imposed on the insured to protect the licensor

Whatever the critical reception for the new content published by Netflix, there is little doubt that demand for all things Roald Dahl will increase in line with the extra exposure given to his characters.

From BFG bedsheets and Fantastic Mr Fox iPad covers, to YouTube videos of Matilda and the Oompa Loompas, there is no end to the potential for new merchandise and content, covered by third-party licensing agreements.

Given the commercial value attached to these contracts and the potential for them to be breached or infringed, specialist insurance is an increasingly important and valuable consideration for those looking to protect their investment.

It is also worth remembering that as new IP agreements are put in place, there are also many existing deals that carry their own terms and conditions.

This adds a further layer of complexity for licensees looking to make the most out of these established franchises and is something they need to navigate successfully if they want to avoid acrimonious and often costly disputes.

It's important to protect IP rights, whatever the business or situation. Find out more about CFC’s IP licensing policy by contacting our media & entertainment team.