Making ‘Stormtroopers’ in your basement? (gotta look at that basement) 2

In a galaxy not so far away… (the United Kingdom under the rule of HRH)… the original designer and prop maker of the Star Wars stormtrooper costume continues to make replicas of the iconic stormtrooper in his basement and sell them over the internet.  This basement stormtrooper-production-line led to a legal battle in the UK’s highest court.  Lucasfilms filed a lawsuit for copyright violation, in the hopes of shutting down the basement production.

The court ruled in favor of the basement stormtrooper-production since UK copyright law offers a short term of copyright protection for ‘props’ and that period of protection had expired.  (Interestingly, the same stormtrooper costumes are covered by a much longer term of copyright protection in the UK if the court had found them to be works of sculpture instead of classified as props.  Here in United States, if the stormtroopers were being produced in a basement on US soil… it is likely that Lucasfilms would have prevailed because, the US copyright law offers a much longer term of copyright protection regardless of the classification of the copyrightable work as a sculpture or prop.)  Since the stormtrooper costumes are still under copyright protection in the US, damages may have to be paid to Lucasfilms for any costumes that were sold here in the US.

Copyright laws and the term of copyright protection vary from country to country.

(I gotta tell ya, that I visited the UK courtroom while this case was being tried and there were stormtroopers set up all over the place.  The combination of wigs, robes, courtroom formalities and stormtroopers felt like another dimension… straight out of Star Wars.)

The case is: Lucasfilm v. Ainsworth, No. [2011] UKSC 39, U.K. Supreme Court.  See also, http://www.supremecourt.gov.uk/news/latest-judgments.html; @iplegalfreebies and www.kasterlegal.com.

BY: Vanessa Kaster, Esq., LL.M.

For personalized legal services you are welcome to contact me at vk@kasterlegal.com

 

2 comments

  1. What point of law was enough in question to send this to the highest court? An expiration of UK copyright protection seems like it would alone be dispositive.

    • Hi Aaron, interestingly… the classification of the Stormtrooper costumes as a PROP vs a SCULPTURE was one of the the biggest questions before the court because this distinction determined the duration of copyright protection that the costume would be afforded under UK Copyright law. Under UK Copyright Law PROPS have a much shorter period of copyright protection than SCULPTURE. If the costume was held to be a SCULPTURE then it was still under copyright protection and the basement production would be a violation of copyright law; however, if the costume was held to be a PROP then the copyright term had expired and there was no violation. Ultimately, the court held that the costume was a PROP and hence no copyright violation.

      Here in the US, the specific ‘classification’ of copyrightable materials does not change the duration of copyright protection in the same way. This is one interesting and big difference between US and UK copyright laws.

      Have a great day!
      -Vanessa

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