Lucasfilm invokes the force of Sumption QC in Star Wars showdown

Brick Court’s Jonathan Sumption QC has been called upon to represent Lucasfilm in its Supreme Court battle over the alleged copyright infringement of the Star Wars stormtrooper helmet.

Jonathan Sumption
Jonathan Sumption

Sumption, who is well regarded for his Supreme Court prowess, has been instructed by Harbottle & Lewis partner Mark Owen to lead the case alongside Wilberforce Chambers heavyweight Michael Bloch QC.

Bloch represented the company at earlier High Court and Court of Appeal hearings and at both stages was defeated by his opponent, Alistair Wilson QC of Hogarth Chambers.

Sumption has been instructed to lead the advocacy at the Supreme Court in a fight that is expected to have huge implications for the UK film industry.

Lucasfilm has pursued 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, since 2004. It was argued that Ainsworth and his business Shepperton Design Studios could not reproduce the helmets as he does not hold the IP rights to the original articles.

Originally Ainsworth was successfully sued by the filmmakers in the US, but with no assets in the US against which the judgment could be enforced the case moved to the UK.

SC Andrew partner Seamus Andrew has since acted for Ainsworth in the UK proceedings.

The Supreme Court will be asked to decide on two issues: whether a defendant domiciled in England can be sued here for acts in the US that amount to infringement of copyright under US law; and whether the helmets are in fact sculptures.

Sumption will argue on behalf of Lucasfilm that the helmets and armour are sculptures and therefore have a copyright protection of life plus 70 years as opposed to props that have a copyright protection of 15 years.

The case will be heard by the Supreme Court in March.

For more, see the litigation blog.