Litigation boutique SimmonsCooperAndrew has struck down film-maker George Lucas’ galactic High Court battle for ownership of the IP rights to the stormtrooper helmets from the Star Wars films.
Mr Justice Mann ruled that the English copyright for the helmets had expired, which means the movie mogul and LucasFilm does not have exclusive rights to replicate the helmets.
As The Lawyer revealed (7 April), SimmonsCooperAndrew was acting for British engineer Andrew Ainsworth, who produced the stormtrooper helmets and armour for the original 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope film, as well as Luke Skywalker’s ‘X-Wing’ helmet.
Lucas had sued for $20m (£10.1m) after Ainsworth started selling replica stormtrooper helmets four years ago. In the US the movie-maker won a default judgment against the prop designer and Lucas sought to enforce $10m (£5m) of the ruling in the UK. However Mann J refused to enforce the US decision.
Lucas’ legal team, led by Harbottle & Lewis, retained one concession, however, as the court ruled that Ainsworth, though permitted to sell replica helmets in the UK, he could not do so in the US. To Ainsworth this is worth £25,000 to £30,000 in sales.
SimmonsCooperAndrew partner Seamus Andrew, who led the defence for Ainsworth, said the judgment has shown that David can bring down Goliath.
“This ruling means that it’s now harder for film companies to prevent their prop designers from making money out of their own products,” said Andrew. “It makes it harder for the film companies to tie up the IP so loosens up the industry.”
The High Court’s ruling that the copyright had expired meant Ainsworth counterclaim for a cut of profits made from Star Wars since 1977 was dismissed.
Mann J has given both sides leave to appeal his findings at the Court of Appeal.
Harbottle & Lewis are currently considering whether to appeal the copyright findings, while SimmonsCooperAndrew, on the other hand, is mulling over whether it should appeal on the US point.
Mann J has taken the decision on Ainsworth’s rights in the States based on US law, which Harbottle’s holds was extremely significant.
Harbottle partner Mark Owen said this was an important decision for Lucasfilm as the Court found that Mr Ainsworth was not the creator of the Stormtrooper outfits.
“The English Court can and did find that he was infringing our client’s US copyrights,” explained Owen. “Lucasfilm is pleased to have proved that despite the Defendants’ arguments to the contrary it does have strong and enforceable IP rights in these iconic works.”
Andrew instructed lead counsel Alistair Wilson QC of Hogarth Chambers for Ainsworth. Harbottle & Lewis partner Mark Owen represents the Lucas parties, instructing Michael Bloch QC of Wilberforce Chambers as lead counsel.