Lucas loses Star Wars copyright case at Supreme Court

  • Published
Andrew Ainsworth with a Stormtrooper helmet
Image caption,
Mr Ainsworth sells his Stormtrooper costumes for up to £1,800

A prop designer who made the original Stormtrooper helmets for Star Wars has won his battle with director George Lucas over his right to sell replicas.

Andrew Ainsworth, 62, of south London, successfully argued the costumes were functional not artistic works, and so not subject to full copyright laws.

Judges at the Supreme Court upheld a 2009 Court of Appeal decision allowing Mr Ainsworth to continue selling them.

But they also ruled that the director's copyright had been violated in the US.

Mr Ainsworth told the BBC: "This is a massive victory, a total victory, we've already got the champagne out."

He said he went to court on a principle and he was not going to allow the director to "buy his soul".

'David and Goliath'

The ruling about violating US copyright was a moot point, he added, as all it meant was that he could not sell his outfits there, which he had already stopped doing.

"Art is like a Rodin sculpture, film production is an industry and that's what these products are, they were always industrial designs," he said.

"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."

Both the Court of Appeal and the High Court had already ruled in Mr Ainsworth's favour in his multi-million pound battle with Mr Lucas's production company.

The father-of-two has been selling copies of his plastic composite armour and helmets - from the original 1977 film - for eight years.

He uses the same studio in Twickenham from which he made the original costumes, and charges up to £1,800.

In 2004, Lucasfilm sued for $20m (£12m) arguing he did not hold the intellectual property rights and had no right to sell them - a point upheld by a US court.

But the judgement could not be enforced because the designer held no assets in the US, so the battle moved to the UK.

The Star Wars creator, worth an estimated £2bn, claimed Mr Ainsworth was breaching his copyright.

He took his case to the High Court in 2008, Court of Appeal a year later, and earlier this year to the Supreme Court - the highest court in the land.

That court has now also ruled that the 3D works should not be considered sculptures, which means their copyright protection is 15 years from the date they were marketed, and had therefore expired.

But the judges agreed with Lucasfilm lawyers that the director's copyright had been violated in the US by Mr Ainsworth selling his costumes there.

They ruled that those infringed rights were enforceable in the UK, banning him from selling his outfits in the US.


A Lucasfilm spokesman said the court's decision maintained "an anomaly of British copyright law under which the creative and highly artistic works made for use in films... may not be entitled to copyright protection in the UK".

The company said that protection would have been given in "virtually every other country in the world".

On the issue of the jurisdiction of UK courts over infringements abroad, the company said: "The judgement is an important step in modernising UK law and bringing it into line with the EU."

The spokesman added: "Lucasfilm remains committed to aggressively protecting its intellectual property rights relating to Star Wars in the UK and around the globe."

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