"Lucas takes Star Wars fight to UK court"
Wednesday 9 April 2008, 05:55 AEST
A judge in a wig and gown gazed down on a Stormtrooper costume and
nine masks from the Star Wars films at London's High Court at the
start of a high-profile copyright case.
George Lucas, creator of the blockbuster intergalactic sagas, and his
billion-dollar merchandising arm are suing Andrew Ainsworth, a
small-scale prop designer who sells replicas of the film characters
from his south-west London studio.
Lucasfilm and related parties have already won a 2006 court case
against Ainsworth in California, where the judge awarded the firm
$US20 million ($A21.63 million) in damages, and they are now seeking
to have a similar ruling enforced in Britain.
According to a short summary of the case provided by Ainsworth's
lawyers, he argues that the copyright on the items in the courtroom
has expired, and even if it has not, that he owns it, and not Lucas.
"Hence the defendants are counter-claiming in respect of unauthorised
making and issue, distribution and sale of toys and costumes which
are copies of the disputed items."
Michael Bloch, lawyer for Lucasfilm Ltd, opened proceedings by
arguing that the design for the Stormtroopers and other key
characters from the films were well advanced by the time Ainsworth
was asked to produce the costumes in 1976.
"By the time Mr Ainsworth was brought in to make the Stormtrooper
helmet, the look to be created had been worked on by a large number
of people for perhaps more than a year," he said.
The designs "were pretty well fixed in 1975 and they involve the
initial idea of George Lucas worked on then by Ralph McQuarrie and
others". McQuarrie was the conceptual artist and design consultant
for the original Star Wars trilogy.
At stake are the rights to merchandise worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Total merchandising revenue since the first Star Wars movie in 1977
is estimated at around $US12 billion ($A12.98 billion), and total box
office takings from the six movies is about $US4 billion ($A4.33 billion).
As well as the full Stormtrooper costume, masks of characters
including a TIE fighter pilot and Tusken Raider were arranged on the
front bench of the court room.
Ainsworth sells his replicas of the Stormtrooper helmet and armour,
as well the masks for an array of other key characters, from
Shepperton Design Studios.
The full set of armour normally retails at 995 pounds ($A2,137),
although the company does not supply US customers.
Lucas' side is expected to argue that Ainsworth was working for the
studio under an implied contract, whereas the prop designer counters
that "no written contract was entered into and Andrew Ainsworth was
not employed by Lucasfilm".
There may also be legal debate over whether the uniforms were
industrial design or works of art, which could affect the length of
The case, expected to last for 10 days, continues.