Designs Copyright

Star Wars™ Wars

November 17, 2011

Lucasfilm, creator of the well known Star Wars films, has recently been battling not in a galaxy far far away but in the UK courts over the rights to make and sell Stormtrooper replica helmets.

Lucasfilm, creator of Star Wars™, has recently been battling not in a galaxy far far away but in the English courts. The story begins back in the mid 1970’s when Lucasfilm asked Andrew Ainsworth, an England based expert in vacuum moulding plastics, to make Stormtrooper helmets and uniforms for the Star Wars™ films. Lucasfilm owns the copyright in the artistic works created for the Star Wars™ films and generates substantial revenue from licensing and merchandising. However, in 2004, without authorisation from Lucasfilm, Mr Ainsworth began to use his original moulds to make Stormtrooper helmet replicas and sell them in the US and elsewhere. Lucasfilm successfully sued for infringement of its copyright under US copyright law and stopped sales of replica Stormtrooper helmets in the US. The battle then crossed over the Atlantic to the English courts where Lucasfilm claimed infringement of its copyright under English copyright law. The case has finally been settled by the English Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held that a Stormtrooper helmet is not a sculpture, and therefore is not an artistic work. As a consequence of this, under English copyright law, Mr Ainsworth had a defence against the alleged copyright infringement. Therefore, whilst Lucasfilm’s claim of US copyright infringement succeeded in the US, its claim of English copyright infringement failed in the UK. “Although equivalent protection to that provided by US copyright is not available in England a ‘Registered European Community Design’ provides protection throughout Europe for up to 25 years” says Martin Terry of Swindell & Pearson. So what lessons might be learnt? “Be aware that protection provided in the US is not always available elsewhere and be prepared to use the most appropriate vehicle for protecting merchandisable products. This may be a Registered Community Design in Europe” concludes Martin. For further information concerning design protection please contact Martin Terry for more details [email protected] or your usual contact at Swindell & Pearson Ltd.

Swindell & Pearson has been helping businesses and individuals protect and defend their ideas, innovations and brands for over 130 years. With its head office in Derby, the firm also has offices in Stoke, Wolverhampton, Stafford, Sheffield and Burton. To find out how Swindell & Pearson can help you with any intellectual property requirements please get in touch via [email protected] or by telephone on 01332 367 051.