A long time ago in a land far, far away, film director George Lucas created a space epic never before seen and never since equalled. Star Wars involved the eternal fight between good, symbolised by Luke Skywalker, Master Yoda and the soldiers of the rebellion, and evil, symbolised by Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine and his stormtroopers, clad in uniforms of white armour.
The storm trooper uniforms were created by a man called Andrew Ainsworth, who was reportedly paid 30,000 pounds for creating the plastic costumes following designs drawn up by others. Since 2004, he has made a very successful living selling replicas of the suits to the many Star Wars fans throughout the world.
In 2008 George Lucas and Lucasfilm brought proceedings against Ainsworth in the High Court of England and Wales, arguing that the continued reproduction of the stormtrooper costumes infringed their copyright. The Court found that, while Lucas may succeed in a copyright action in the United States, Lucasfilm did not have copyright in the stormtrooper outfits in the United Kingdom (Ainsworth’s primary market). This was because the outfits themselves were not artistic works, as covered by the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act: rather they were utilitarian costumes created to identify a character.
A copy of the original decision of the High Court of England and Wales is available at http://www.originalprop.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/lucasfilm-ltd-ors-v-ainsworth.pdf.
Lucasfilm has now appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales, seeking a ruling that the stormtrooper costumes are artistic works and were created by acts of artistic craftsmanship and are protected by copyright. The case will consider the degree to which sculptures that have a mixture of practical and artistic elements (such as film costumes, and religious icons) may be protected from reproduction under the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act.
This promises to be a case that both Star Wars fans and copyright lawyers can enjoy!