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Lucasfilm loses in Stormtroopers Copyright Row in the UK

Written by Zerbakht Khan on 26 December 2009

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George Lucas loses in the Court of Appeal against a stormtrooper prop maker.

The defendant, Andrew Ainsworth, was originally the producer of some of the vacuum moulded plastic Stormtroopers uniforms used in Star Wars. After the film's release, Ainsworth continued producing uniforms and started selling them through his website. Lucasfilm argued he infringed their copyright under UK copyright law. However, the Court of Appeal agreed with the High Court in its decision that it was neither an artistic work nor a sculpture:

Mann J: "while there were no hard and fast rules for determining whether an object was a sculpture for the purposes of copyright law, various factors must be considered. These included the normal understanding of the word "sculpture" and the fact that it was part of the essence of a sculpture that it should have a visual appeal in the sense that it could be enjoyed for that purpose alone. It did not matter that the object in question had some other use. Even so, none of the items of uniform in this case were "sculptures" since they lacked the necessary quality of artistic creation."

"the objects in dispute were not works of artistic craftsmanship since it was no part of their purpose that they should in any way appeal as a piece of art"

Design rights in the uniforms had expired. Designs generally receive only 15 years of protection (s.216 Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988), whilst artistic works are given protection for the life of the author plus 70 years (s.12). The court held even if copyright still subsisted, it is not an infringement of a design right to "make an article to the design or to copy an article made to the design" (s.51).

In 2006 the US court awarded Lucasfilm $20 million in damages against Ainsworth. Lucasfilm wanted to enforce the US judgement in the UK but failed; Ainsworth's US sales were not significant enough to enforce the ruling here in the UK.

"Infringement of an IP right (especially copyright, which is largely unharmonised) is essentially a local matter involving local policies and local public interest. It is a matter for local judges"

"for sound policy reasons the supposed international jurisdiction over copyright infringement claims does not exist. If it is ever to be created it should be by Treaty with all the necessary rules about mutual recognition, lis pendens and so on. It is not for judges to arrogate to themselves such a jurisdiction."

Lucasfilm plans on taking the case up to the Supreme Court. The company said in a statement: "The judges in the case dismissed the creative efforts of film designers and prop makers in general, saying that props are the work of people who 'did not make it as artists' and not fine art that should be valued under the law."

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