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This week, Star Wars creator George Lucas commenced litigation in the UK against British movie prop designer Andrew Ainsworth, seeking to enforce a $20 million California judgment against Ainsworth for trademark and copyright infringement. Lucas’ claim of infringement centered on Ainworth’s unlicensed sale of Stormtrooper uniform and helmet reproductions on his personal design studio website.
Ainsworth is allegedly the original designer of the Stormtrooper uniforms featured in the 1977 sci-fi classic Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. He claims to have personally sculpted the molds from which the original helmets and body armor were constructed. The iconic Stormtrooper has since become a symbol of the Star Wars movie franchise:
Ainsworth’s molds for the Stormtrooper helmets and uniforms were first inspired by the conceptual drawings of Ralph McQuarrie. McQuarrie produced the conceptual art for all three original Star Wars movies.
Most important to the resolution of the Lucas-Ainsworth controversy will be the London High Court’s determination of who owns the intellectual property rights in the three-dimensional Stormtrooper outfit.
Questions relevant to the determination of authorship (and ownership) of the Stormtrooper copyrights (in the parlance of U.S. Copyright Act of 1976) are: whether Lucasfilms and Ainsworth were joint authors of the Stormtrooper uniform; whether Ainsworth was an employee or an independent contractor of Lucasfilms when he created the uniform; and thus whether the Stormtrooper uniform was a “work for hire”. Copyright law in the United Kingdom is similar enough to that of the United States such that the London court’s reasoning should closely follow the California decision.
— Austin Broussard
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