Supreme Court to Determine True Owner of the Galactic Empire

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Galactic Empire

 ty-cobb Blog submitted by - Ty Cobb

An interesting copyright case is being heard in the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court is going to determine who really owns the Galactic Empire.

A London artist and prop designer named Andrew Ainsworth has sued George Lucas’ film company for the ownership rights to the iconic Storm trooper helmet. Mr. Ainsworth maintains that he constructed the original plastic helmets for the first Star Wars film in 1977. His lawyers do stipulate that he did not provide the original design.

Lucas film, for their part, insist that they retain the full copyright to the Storm trooper helmet. Further, they stated that an “implied term” of
Ainsworth’s work on the movie was that he “would not be entitled to retain copyright for the artefacts.”

Of course, no one anticipated at the time of production that Star Wars would be such a great success that now, decades later, there would be a
vital market for replica props as well as anything branding the Star Wars name from collective coins to patiofurniture. As such, no clearly written prohibition was placed on the prop-makers that would stop them from creating or selling replicas. This particular case began in 2004 when Mr. Ainsworth uncovered one of the original plastic helmets in his own collection. He sold it to a collector, and then began selling replicas created from the same mould. Though he has only sold a small number of helmets in the United States, that was enough to get the attention of Lucas film, which has historically been quite vigilant in defence of its property. Indeed, one of the earliest offices set up by Lucas as he prepared the first Star Wars sequel Empire Strikes Back was dedicated to combating the spread of pirate merchandise. With no pre-existing contracts for books, toys, and so forth, Lucas found the market flooded with pretenders selling his creation. Since then Lucas' companies have taken a hard line against any perceived infringement.

The Lucas film lawyers argued before the UK court that the famous Storm trooper helmet was a 'sculpture,' a piece of artwork that had intellectual property protection. Mr Ainsworth's lawyers counter that it is simply a prop from a movie, and that its functional value means it is not covered by British Copyright laws. The US Copyright laws do protect it.

Also at issue would be the copyright status of the new storm trooper armour that appears in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a computer-animated television series. Since that armour is not a physical prop, but a computer sculpture, its status is not readily clear. In the process of hearing arguments, the evidence presented to the court included an official plastic replica of the Storm trooper helmet. It was not disclosed whether any of the judges hummed the Star Wars theme as it was brought in (though we can assume at least one of them must have).

Ty Cobb is an avid blogger and traveller. He loves music, art, people and how the three intermingle. He can be found on Twitter@bloggingcobb

Something about the author, Ty Cobb:
I've been guest blogging for a little over two years now. No smoking, no
pets, occasional beer. Cheers!

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