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Marine biologist in epic legal battle with comedian Ricky Gervais

PUBLISHED: 06:30 22 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:13 22 May 2020

Marine biologist John Savage is in a dispute with comedian Ricky Gervais over 'Flanimals', Inset, one of Mr Savage's drawings. Picture: John Savage/PA

Marine biologist John Savage is in a dispute with comedian Ricky Gervais over 'Flanimals', Inset, one of Mr Savage's drawings. Picture: John Savage/PA

John Savage

A legal wrangle between a Norwich marine biologist and one of the biggest names in comedy could be set for a dramatic twist – which might end a dispute that has spanned more than a decade.

Ricky Gervais, who is accused of stealing ideas from Norwich marine biologist John Savage for his book Flanimals. Picture: PA WireRicky Gervais, who is accused of stealing ideas from Norwich marine biologist John Savage for his book Flanimals. Picture: PA Wire

In 2000, 54-year-old John Savage released a book called Captain Pottie’s Wildlife Encyclopedia – a collection of bizarre cartoon creatures concocted from his own imagination.

Four years later, comedian and actor Ricky Gervais released his own book, Flaminals – also a collection of bizarre cartoon creatures said to be concocted from his own imagination.

Similarities between the two books led to Mr Savage attempting to sue the comedian for theft of intellectual property. However, financial limitations saw his pursuit end.

Now though, with Mr Gervais applying to trade mark Flanimals, Mr Savage has sought legal advice and has lodged a formal objection with the government’s Intellectual Property Office.

A page from John Savage's book, which he alleges was copied by Ricky Gervais in Flanimals. Picture: James BassA page from John Savage's book, which he alleges was copied by Ricky Gervais in Flanimals. Picture: James Bass

Mr Savage, who was forced to abandon attempts to sue Mr Gervais in 2011, said: “My message to Ricky Gervais would be ‘can we just sort this out once and for all?’

“This has been going on for 10 years and frankly I am fed up – so let’s talk. We have been through this before and I just want closure, I do not want to have to keep fighting, but I will if I have to.”

Mr Savage has sought the legal advice of barrister and Harvard Law graduate David Langwallner, who has dealt with a range of copyright disputes in the past.

Mr Langwallner, of MCB Chambers, said: “Mr Savage is not greedy about any of this and ultimately wishes Mr Gervais well, but he does feel exploited and his integrity cheapened and is in the process now of seeking to mediate with Mr Gervais and his solicitors to come to a reasonable settlement otherwise the dwindling resources of a marine biologist will, he is determined, be spent on copyright and trademark litigation.

John Savage, with a copy of his book and Ricky Gervais's Flanimals. Picture: James BassJohn Savage, with a copy of his book and Ricky Gervais's Flanimals. Picture: James Bass

“This is yet another example, of which more will manifest themselves in our post-coronavirus universe, of how wealth and structural inequality and unequal bargaining power fail to protect the little man.”

Mr Gervais published five Flaminals books in total, with the most recent being a pop-up collection released in 2009. Talks of a big screen adaptation were also mooted around this time, but this has not materialised.

Mr Gervais has since made moves to place a new trademark on the Flanimals name, with Mr Savage lodging a notice of opposition against the bid.

Mr Savage said that while attempting to garner interest in his book he submitted a copy to Mr Gervais’s representatives.

Author and marine biologist John Savage, who is in a legal wrangle with Ricky Gervais over 'Flanimals. Picture: John SavageAuthor and marine biologist John Savage, who is in a legal wrangle with Ricky Gervais over 'Flanimals. Picture: John Savage

He therefore claims the similarities cannot be coincidental.

He added: “Some of my ideas and drawings date right the way back to my childhood, it just took a while for me to get them to a point where I felt happy to pull them together in a book.”

Mr Savage’s creations include creatures with trumpet-like mouths called Yellybabies, a round spiky creature with bulging eyes called Hamselot and a beast with several udders called Udderside Cow.

Mr Gervais’s Flanimals includes a creature with a trumpet-like mouth called Honk, a round spiky creature with bulging eyes called Mernimbler and a beast with several udders called an Mung Ungler.

Puffoon one of the characters in Puffoon one of the characters in "Captain Pottie's Wildlife Encylopedia" by John Savage. He claims that Ricky Gervais copied some of his characters for the book "Flanimals". For Jon Welch.

Speaking to this newspaper in 2011, Mr Savage said: “All I want is justice for my work.

A spokesman for Mr Gervais declined to comment.

Speaking previously, his representative said: “This story goes back several years, when John Savage first made contact with Ricky Gervais’s representatives.

“At the time it was made clear that the concept and illustrations of Flanimals pre-existed John Savage’s work.”


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