1709 Blog: for all the copyright community

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Appeal of Star Wars helmets

Three judges yesterday told the creators of Star Wars that their Stormtroopers simply didn’t have the X factor (judgment here).

Andrew Ainsworth, who made the helmets and uniforms for the 1977 film Star Wars IV – A New Hope, subsequently set up a business selling replicas. In 2006 a US court granted Lucasfilm an injunction against Ainsworth and $20m damages. In the Chancery Division it was held last year that:

1) The US judgment could not be enforced in England.
2) Although the uniforms were based on paintings and drawings by Ralph McQuarrie (example shown here) in which Lucasfilm owned copyright, the replicas did not infringe that copyright in UK law because they were not ‘artistic works’. Under s. 51 CDPA ‘it is not an infringement of any copyright in a design document or model recording or embodying a design for anything other than an artistic work or a typeface to make an article to the design or to copy an article made to the design.’
3) Even if the uniforms were copyright works, the copyright would have been impliedly assigned to Lucasfilm.
4) However, the US copyright claim was justiciable in England.

The Court of Appeal agreed except on the last point, with the effect that Lucasfilm is left with no cause of action against Ainsworth in England.

Why didn’t the court think that the helmet is an artistic work, a ‘sculpture’? It said it was impossible to define sculpture but it must at least be ‘intended to be a work of art’, to have ‘visual appeal’ as part of its purpose. It affirmed that the helmets were ‘no different from and serve the same purpose as any real helmet or armour used in a film’, they were ‘utilitarian and lacking in artistic purpose’. Really? The helmets and uniforms are clearly designed to produce an imaginative and emotional response in the viewer – something they do very well.

No viewers’ votes in this contest but an appeal on appeal may appeal...?

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