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Stormtrooper helmet designer wins UK copyright case

stormtrooperThe force appeared to be with British prop designer Andrew Ainsworth on Wednesday, when a ruling made by the UK Supreme Court on whether he could sell replica Star Wars Stormtrooper helmets, which he helped design back in the 1970s, went in his favor.

George Lucas’s production company, Lucasfilm, failed in its bid to persuade the court that selling the helmets breached UK copyright law.

According to a BBC report, 62-year-old Ainsworth convinced the court that the helmets are not artistic works but purely functional pieces of kit – and therefore fall outside full UK copyright laws. “Art is like a Rodin sculpture, film production is an industry and that’s what these products are, they were always industrial designs,” Ainsworth said.

However, despite being told by the court that copyright laws had been broken in the US, Ainsworth was more than happy with the main ruling. “This is a massive victory, a total victory, we’ve already got the champagne out,” he told the BBC.

The legal spat between Lucasfilm and Ainsworth has been continuing for a number of years. A ruling in a US court in 2004 went Lucasfilm’s way – the court agreed that Ainsworth didn’t hold the intellectual property rights and therefore would not be allowed to sell the helmet and costume in the US. But as the BBC report points out, because Ainsworth held no assets in the US, the ruling could not be enforced. As a result, Lucasfilm took its case to courts in the UK.

The UK court’s decision that Ainsworth has broken US copyright laws makes little difference to the designer as it has been some time since he sold the costumes there.

Though disappointed with the outcome on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Lucasfilm made the company’s position clear regarding copyright violation. “Lucasfilm remains committed to aggressively protecting its intellectual property rights relating to Star Wars in the UK and around the globe,” he said.

As for Andrew Ainsworth, the south Londoner has been selling copies of the Stormtrooper costumes for the last eight years. Each one goes for as much as $2900 (£1800). One imagines there ‘s a fair number of them clanking about at the Star Wars Celebration events (next one in 2012), an occasional gathering of fans of the popular movie franchise.

Image: Leandro Neumann Ciuffo

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