Sunday, July 31, 2011

A New Hope after The Empire Strikes Back: About Stormtrooper helmets and a Sandcrawler building in Singapore

The epic battle between a British prop maker and Lucasfilm Ltd. over who has the right to sell Stormtrooper helmets has come to an end. The British prop designer struck back against the Star Wars empire, winning a court battle against US film company boss George Lucas over his right to sell replica Stormtrooper helmets.

The five-year war, which took place not in a galaxy far, far away but rather in the legal courts of both America and Britain, began in 2006. That's when Andrew Ainsworth, designer and maker of the original Stormtrooper helmets featured in the classic "Star Wars" movies, began selling replica helmets cast from the original 1976 molds over the Internet. Lucasfilm tried to stop him, saying the helmets were protected by copyright laws.

On Wednesday a British court ruled that while Ainsworth cannot sell the helmets in America, he may continue to make and sell helmets in England. It all came down to whether the helmets are sculptures, which would make them works of art and therefore covered by British copyright law, or whether they were props and not artwork, which would mean they are covered by a shorter copyright period (15 years instead of 70 years) that has now expired.

Lucasfilm lamented that the court had upheld an "anomaly of British copyright law under which the creative and highly artistic works made for use in films — which are protected by the copyright laws of virtually every other country in the world — may not be entitled to copyright protection in the U.K."

Ainsworth's Stormtrooper helmets sell for as much as 500 British pounds on his website. [ source: LA Times ]

I had actually covered this court battle earlier in April 10, 2008 in a post titled "Star Wars Court Wars"

In other related news, Lucasfilm's Singapore office is a winner at the International Architecture Awards this year. The Sandcrawler at Fusionopolis high-tech park will be the completed next year, 2012.

The eight-storey ‘Sandcrawler’ complex is designed to house the regional headquarters and production facility of the world renowned film and entertainment company.

The building resembles the real Sandcrawler featured in the epic saga in a galaxy far far away as a transport vehicle piloted by machine scavenging clan appearing in many of its episodes.

I had also posted another entry about this soon-to-be iconic building in Singapore HERE


Max said...

Lucas has the right to protect his property, will this be a landmark case for anyone wanting to shift merchandise relating to other franchises? Also everyone, including every article I've read about this today, is focusing on Lucas' fortune and the fool is shifting pieces of moulded plastic for £1800 a pop! Completely playing off the Star Wars name, this make him any better than the persona people have put on Lucas?
This case could prove far more significant for future intellectual property rights cases. Because the supreme court has ruled that an imperial stormtrooper's helmet from the movie is not a piece of "sculpture" it makes it ok for theis guy to make money off it? This could really open things up in the UK concerning IP. Does it mean that someone who helped design Na'vi in Avatar can set up a business in the UK selling Avatar gear and Jim Cameron can't touch it?
Also if Star Wars wasn't popular would he still be going to all the effort to pursue this case? I'm not stupid enough to think that there's not a market there for the stuff and that's why he's selling it, but he trading directly off the back of the Star Wars name. He's a small cog in a big machine, what about all the other designers who were involved in the movie making process? It's my guess that law's now will become so tight that designers working in this field will be sued if they even think about the deigns they've created.
I think what Lucasfilm should do now is release their own range of armour, mass produced so it's cheaper, flood the market and do away with leeches like this hater.... I'd buy that for a dollar!

Anonymous said...

I'd say there is merit on both sides. I mean in a direct way Lucasfilms owns the designs it created cause that is how the business works but it has been 33 years since the original movie and it's not as if Lucasfilms is based on selling props or replicas. The few they do sell from what I have seen are often limited and overpriced in a realistic sense cause Lucasfilms could easily produce high quality items or better for a reasonable price.

I think a better option in this situation and considering the name brand issue of star wars and the power and related functions of lucasfilms (They have huge prop departments making these same things for movies already.) that lucas should put together a company that makes these costumes and props and sells them for a fair price. They have the backing both financially and technically to do it cheaper and easier than anyone else and by doing this they could keep a standard of quality up and while giving the hardcore fans good fun at a good price they would also make a lot more money.

As it is the little guys who put A LOT of hard work into making small numbers of props just to maybe make some money to make more props should not be so harshly punished.