George Lucas has actually lost a Star Wars copyright case! Today the UK Supreme Court upheld a 2009 appeals court ruling that prop designer Andrew Ainsworth, the man who designed the Imperial Stormtrooper helmets for George Lucas' original Star Wars, didn't violate British law by selling copies of the helmets. He's been manufacturing replicas of the helmet for the past eight years.
In 2006 Lucasfilm won a $20 million judgment against Ainsworth in California, with the argument that Lucas already came up with the look of the stormtrooper helmets before coming to Ainsworth to design them. Lucasfilm had to prove in the UK that the stormtrooper designs were works of art to qualify for copyright protection under the law, or a functional object. According to the report:
If Lucasfilm could convince the courts the 3D works were sculptures, they would be protected by copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years. If not, the copyright protection would be reduced to 15 years from the date they were marketed, meaning it would have expired and Mr Ainsworth would be free to sell them.
It was the Star Wars film that was the work of art that Mr. Lucas and his companies created. The helmet was utilitarian, in the sense that it was an element in the process of production of the film.
Ainsworth is now free to continue selling all the stormtrooper suits and helmets that he wants. Lucasflim and all of their high powered lawyers weren't able to stop him. He is currently selling the stormtrooper suits for £500 and £1,000. Ainsworth had this to say in a statement,
I am proud to report that in the English legal system David can prevail against Goliath if his cause is right. If there is a Force, then it has been with me these past five years.
I'm surprised Lucas lost this case because the guy always seems to win. I also want to note that Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson and James Cameron were all supporting Lucas on this lawsuit because the "ruling posed a "significant threat" to the UK film industry as film-makers would be deterred from using UK propmakers for fear of copyright infringement."
What are your thoughts on how this whole lawsuit played out?