George Lucas’s $20 million lawsuit against the man who made stormtrooper helmets for the original Star Wars movies is over, and Lucas can’t be happy with the results.
Andrew Ainsworth has spent over five years and £700,000 going up against George Lucas’s lawyers, stuck in a bitter copyright battle with the movie mogul. However, the fight is finally over and Mr. Ainsworth has reason to celebrate: The U.K.’s Supreme Court has sided with him about his right replica Stormtrooper helmets.
If you haven’t heard of Ainsworth before now, here’s the Reader’s Digest version of how this case came to be. The man was a 27-year-old art school graduate when he created the original helmets for the first Star Wars film. In 2002, he was struggling to pay off school costs, so he sold one of the original helmets and some “bits and pieces” that were collecting dust around his house. The gear sold for £60,000 at Christie’s, which gave Ainsworth the idea to break out the original molds and start making/selling helmets to dedicated fans.
Unsurprisingly, Lucasfilm wasn’t too happy when word of the helmet sales appeared, and that’s when things got litigious:
Lucasfilm sued for $20m in 2004, arguing Mr Ainsworth 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.
It turned out that no Lucas and Ainsworth never signed any paperwork, though the courts decided that there was an implied contract between the two men. However, the initial claim was rejected and the court battle centered around whether the helmets being sold were works of art or industrial props. If they were the former, then copyright protection would last for 70 years after the life of the author; the latter, though, only enjoys copyright protection for fifteen years after the date they were originally created and marketed.
The High Court and Court of Appeal ruled in Ainsworth’s favor, and the Supreme Court just followed suit. While Ainsworth is undoubtedly thrilled -after all, he turns a pretty tidy profit on the helmets and sets of armor- Lucasfilm clearly is pretty angry. After the ruling, a spokesperson for the film stated, “We believe the imaginative characters, props, costumes, and other visual assets that go into making a film deserve protection in Britain. The UK should not allow itself to become a safe haven for piracy.”
What will be interesting to see is just how this will affect Lucasfilm’s revenue. According to Ainsworth’s lawyer, the legal decision “opens a ‘Pandora’s box’ as anyone is now free to make the models.”