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Legal battle over Star Wars helmets

The Supreme Court have ruled that the storm trooper helmets in the Star Wars films are not a piece of ‘sculpture’ and therefore do not qualify for copyright protection.

The claimants, American film producers ‘Lucasfilm’, brought legal action against English prop designer Andrew Ainsworth, and his business Shepperton Design Studios, in an attempt to prevent him selling replica helmets and armour.

Ainsworth, who helped make the outfits for the movie, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, stating that he is ‘delighted to have won the right to continue to make these replicas from the original tools and moulds.’

Lucasfilm commenced the multi-million pound legal battle in the USA, claiming that Ainsworth did not hold the intellectual property rights for the costumes and therefore had no right to sell them. Although this argument was upheld by the American courts, Ainsworth holds no assets in the USA so this judgement could not be enforced in America. Lucasfilm therefore continued the battle in the UK courts.

In order for Lucasfilm’s claim to be successful in the UK, they had to show that the helmets and armour constituted a piece of ‘sculpture’. However, the UK courts ruled that the helmets were a design document only, and lacked the necessary quality of artistic creation to be classed as a ‘sculpture’. The Court therefore held that to replicate them was not an infringement of copyright laws.

The Supreme Court’s decision in this case has prompted discussion surrounding the ruling, in particular, that it will now be possible to bring legal action in the UK for breaches of copyright laws which occur in a number of different countries, so long as the defendant resides in the UK.

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