Return of the Judges (of the UK Supreme Court)

In two previous posts, available here and here, we have chronicled the ongoing dispute between Star Wars creator George Lucas and Andrew Ainsworth.  Ainsworth created the original Imperial Stormtrooper uniform and in 2004 he commenced making Stormtrooper costumes again, which he would sell to dedicated Star Wars fans. Lucas sued, arguing that the works were protected by copyright, and Ainsworth’s reproductions infringed Lucas’ copyright in the product.  Lucas was unsuccessful in both the High Court of England and Wales and the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and had appealed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

The story continues…

The key question the UK Supreme Court had to decide was whether the Stormtrooper costumes were practical costumes that identify a character (in which case they were not considered to be copyrightable), or whether they were in fact sculptures, meaning that they were unique artistic works subject to the protection of the Copyright Act.  The UK Supreme Court, without much discussion, upheld the lower court judgments in favor of Ainsworth.

Perhaps more interesting though, was the UK Supreme Court’s finding on the issue of jurisdiction.  Lucas had brought proceedings in against Ainsworth in the US for copyright infringement (the US law being more favourable in this case than the UK law), but the US Court’s judgement could not be enforced because Ainsworth was not located in the US and had no assets there.  However, the UK Supreme Court found that, in a situation where a defendant was domiciled in England a UK Court had jurisdiction to hear claims for infringement of copyright committed outside the UK in breach of the copyright law of that country.

This decision could significantly affect where copyright claims are filed in future.  For example, if a UK resident had committed copyright infringement in a number of different countries, it would be possible to commence a single proceeding against that individual in the UK, seeking a single award of damages.  For Ainsworth, it may mean that Lucas could commence copyright infringement proceedings against him on the basis of Stormtrooper sales made in the US and succeed in getting orders preventing him from selling the Stormtrooper replicas in the US.

A link to the decision is available here.

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