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Lucasfilm Ltd Calls on UK to Modernise Copyright Law

The Stormtrooper Helmet

Lucasfilm Ltd which owns the rights to Star Wars and its related products, today issued a mixed reponse to a UK Supreme Court ruling on a copyright infringement of a storm trooper outfit.

There were two aspects to the ruling – firstly that of the copyright infringement itself and secondly “Whether an English court may exercise jurisdiction in a claim against persons domiciled in England for infringement of copyright committed outside the European Union in breach of the copyright law of that country?”.

By the time of the Supreme Court hearing, Lucasfilm claimed only that the helmets qualified for copyright protection under English law as “sculptures” and not as “works of artistic craftsmanship”. In this regard the judges found that the stormtrooper helmet is not a sculpture nor a work of art in itself, rather the film of which it is a part is the work of art. The helmet was instead regarded as a prop or costume.

The issue of jurisdiction, however, was allowed in favour of Lucasfilm Ltd.. The claim is justiciable “provided there is a basis for in personam jurisdiction over the defendant, an English court does have jurisdiction to try a claim for infringement of copyright of the kind involved in the present action”.

Following the judgement, Lucasfilm Ltd attacked the English law relating to the stormtrooper helmet saying: “an anomaly of British copyright law under which the creative and highly artistic works made for use in films — which are protected by the copyright laws of virtually every other country in the world — may not be entitled to copyright protection in the UK”. They took the opportunity to “encourage” the UK government to “modernize its copyright and design laws to afford full protection to three dimensional artistic works”.

Case: Lucasfilm Limited and others (Appellants) v Ainsworth and another (Respondents) [2011]

Justices: Lord Phillips (President), Lord Walker, Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Collins.

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