Lucasfilm wins copyright infringement case in British High Court

Mumbai: A High Court judge found that British firm Shepperton Design Studios and its principal Andrew Ainsworth violated the US copyrights of Lucasfilm Ltd. by making and selling pirated Star Wars Stormtrooper helmets and other costume replicas.

The ruling by Mr Justice Mann in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, affirmed that Lucasfilm is the sole owner of all rights to the iconic costume designs.

The court held that Ainsworth infringed Lucasfilm’s rights when he reproduced the Stormtrooper helmet replicas and sold them under a false claim that he had created the designs, which were used in 1977’s Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. Ainsworth was a plastics manufacturer who was hired in 1976 to reproduce designs created by a team of Lucasfilm artists, including costume designer John Mollo, who won an Academy Award for his work on the film.

Lucasfilm brought the case to the British High Court following a 2006 judgment by a California court awarding Lucasfilm $20 million in damages resulting from Ainsworth’s activities. The British court held that it could apply US law to the matter and ruled in Lucasfilm’s favor on the merits of the infringement case.

The court also held that Ainsworth infringed Lucasfilm’s rights under UK copyright laws, but that a UK-specific law that limits the enforcement of copyrights in industrial designs applied to the facts in the case. Lucasfilm is considering whether to appeal the legal finding under the UK industrial design law.

"We are grateful to the court for its ruling, which makes it clear that Lucasfilm and George Lucas are the rightful owners of the copyrights related to Star Wars," said Lucasfilm vice president Howard Roffman.

"We do not intend to use this ruling to discourage our fans from expressing their imagination, creativity and passion for Star Wars through the costumes and props they make for their personal use," Roffman said. "Rather, we see the Court’s decision as reaffirming that those who seek to illegally profit from Star Wars will be brought to task, wherever they may be."
Proceedings in the High Court of Justice began on 8 April. The trial included testimony from Mollo; Gary Kurtz, producer of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back; and Roffman, among others. Lucasfilm presented as evidence scores of sketches, designs, drawings and plans from the production of the first Star Wars film, which was produced in England in 1976. Original Imperial Stormtrooper costumes were displayed for the court as evidence. The trial now moves into the remedies phase, in which the court will determine the appropriate relief to provide to Lucasfilm.