LucasFilm, the company behind the Star Wars movie series, has lost a copyright claim in the Court of Appeal against a prop designer who sells replica Stormtrooper helmets.
The Court ruled that the helmets were not "sculptures" as per the meaning of "artistic works" under s4 of the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988. This allowed the designer, Andrew Ainsworth of Shepperton Design Studios, to rely on the defence under s51 of the Act:
"It is not an infringement of any copyright in a design document or model recording or embodying a design for anything other than an artistic work or a typeface to make an article to the design or to copy an article made to the design."
In other words, although LucasFilm owns the copyright in the designs for the helmets, Mr Ainsworth is permitted to make the helmets contained in the design because the helmets themselves would not be copyrighted material. The Court considered the works to be for a utilitarian and not artistic purpose.
In addition, the Court held that, although it would not dispute that Mr Ainsworth was in breach of US copyright law, it could not be forced to "accept" the US judgement as infringement of copyright and other intellectual property as it "is essentially a local matter…for local judges". Furthermore, the Court was unwilling to grant an injunction over an act which, despite being illegal in the US, was lawful in the UK, and was similarly keen to avoid placing such restraints over activities taking place outwith the national jurisdiction of the Court.
Mr Ainsworth does not intend to sell his replica goods again in the US. This may not be the end of the matter, however, as LucasFilm are expected to appeal to the UK's new Supreme Court. The saga continues.