SC Andrew chases stormtrooper client for £3.5m legal bill

A British engineer who won a Star Wars copyright row is being pursued by his own lawyers for £3.5m owed in court costs.

SC Andrew partner Seamus Andrew represented Andrew Ainsworth and his business Shepperton Design Studios when they were sued by Lucasfilm in 2006 over the IP rights to the stormtrooper helmets for the original 1977 ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ film.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, with Alistair Wilson QC of Hogarth Chambers and George Hamer of 8 New Square instructed by Andrew (27 July 2011).

The case was brought on a conditional fee arrangement (CFA), and usually the court will order the losing side to cover the other’s costs.

But as the Supreme Court found in favour of Lucasfilm’s secondary point that US copyright law can be enforced in the UK, the judge declined to make a costs order against the film production company. That has left Ainsworth staring at a bill estimated at £3.5m.

That represents £1.3m in legal fees with a 100 per cent uplift to £2.6m owed to SC Andrew, and around £900,000 to counsel.

Andrew said: “Because we won the case, the client still owes this firm fees. It’s a rather unusual situation. Normally the client who wins under a CFA gets a costs order. It’s rather unsatisfactory from both his point of view and from ours.

“He’s not paid and it’s fair to say we’re in negotiations.”

Andrew said he is not suing Ainsworth, adding: “We’re trying to find a way of working with him to get it paid in a way that he can manage.”

Ainsworth said: “I’ve not had an invoice of costs, but I’m taking separate advice on this issue. A lot of the publicity for Seamus’s practice came from this case, he gained a lot of kudos. Hopefully we can come to some agreement.”

Meanwhile, SC Andrew, Wilson and Hamer are continuing to act for Ainsworth on a £4m damages claim that is ongoing in the High Court, with Lucasfilm suing over the sale of 19 of the helmets in the US.

Andrew added: “We’re still batting for him, but at some stage it would be helpful if the fees were resolved.”

At the Supreme Court Lucasfilm instructed Brick Court’s Jonathan Sumption QC to lead the advocacy. Sumption was instructed by Harbottle & Lewis partner Mark Owen to lead the case alongside Wilberforce Chambers heavyweight Michael Bloch QC.

Owen and Bloch are again representing Lucasfilm in its latest claim against Ainsworth.

Lucasfilm was recently bought out by Walt Disney, with Latham & Watkins and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom instructed (31 October 2012).