Split decision in Star Wars copyright case

George Lucas and Star Wars prop designer Andrew Ainsworth are both claiming victory after a split High Court decision over who owns the rights to the design of the Stormtroopers, featured in the films.

Mr Justice Mann ruled that George Lucas’ production company Lucasfilm owns the US rights to the Star Wars character design, but that Ainsworth is permitted to continue to manufacture and sell replicas of the original Stormtroopers outside the US.

Yesterday’s ruling was hailed by Ainsworth’s legal team from Simmons Cooper Andrew as ‘an important intellectual property decision’ that has tightened up the definition of ‘work of artistic craftsmanship’, under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The effect of this is to restrict the extent to which a film company can ringfence the copyright in film props, according to Simmons Cooper Andrew.

For the copyright claims, Lucasfilm relied on 32 works, including original drawings by Star Wars designer Ralph McQuarrie, clay models and some of the helmets used in the film.

Ainsworth accepted that, in making his replicas, he was copying from those items.

However, Simmons Cooper Andrew’s Seamus Andrew, the lawyer who represented Ainsworth, says, ‘Lucasfilm’s suit was simply unsustainable as a matter of English intellectual property law. It is not possible to tie up the creative efforts of a craftsman in the film industry indefinitely, no matter how much the film production companies would like to achieve this. The law has moved on, and now so can Mr Ainsworth’.

In California in 2005, Lucasfilm won a £10m damages judgement for copyright infringement against Ainsworth. However, George Lucas’s production company tried and failed yesterday to convince the UK courts to make Ainsworth pay this amount.

Mr Justice Mann said in court that Lucasfilm had adopted a ‘sledgehammer or steamroller approach’. He observed that, ‘Lucas is determined to stop Mr Ainsworth by whatever legitimate means are open to it.’

Ainsworth worked on the first Star Wars film, Episode IV: A New Hope. He now runs a business from his workshop – Shepperton Design Studio – producing and selling replica versions of the Stormtrooper helmets, which he claims are cast from the original moulds.

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