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Intellectual Property Insights from Fishman Stewart
Mini Article – Volume 24, Issue 8

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Happy Star Wars Day!

By Kristyn Webb

“May the 4th Be With You,” also known as Star Wars Day, takes place annually on May 4th. The phrase is a pun on the iconic Star Wars catchphrase “May the Force be with you.” While the exact origins of the holiday are somewhat murky, it gained widespread popularity in the early 2000s through fan communities and social media.

Over the years, Star Wars Day has become an official celebration recognized by Lucasfilm and Disney, the owners of the Star Wars franchise. They often release new Star Wars content, merchandise, and special promotions to coincide with the holiday, further fueling the excitement among fans.

As intellectual property attorneys, we like to celebrate by reflecting on one of our favorite cases. Not that long ago (circa 2005), in a courtroom not very far, far away (California) Lucasfilm sued Andrew Ainsworth, the UK prop designer who created the Imperial Stormtrooper helmets featured in the earliest Star Wars films. 

The lightsaber-rattling began over the rights to replicate and sell Stormtrooper helmets and armor from the beloved Star Wars saga. In 2004, Ainsworth began making and selling the helmets in the United States. Lucasfilm sued for copyright infringement, claiming that the unauthorized reproduction of the helmets infringed its copyrights in the Star Wars artwork (including the design drawings for the helmets) and films. Ainsworth did not defend against the lawsuit, and Lucasfilm obtained a default judgment of $20 million USD. Because Ainsworth had no assets in the US, Lucasfilm sought to enforce the judgment in the UK, where Ainsworth resided.

In a plot twist, the UK courts ruled in Ainsworth’s favor. The courts held that the US judgment was unenforceable in the UK, and that there was no copyright infringement under UK law, which extends copyright protection only to certain types of works, like “sculptures.” The UK courts found that the helmet was not a “sculpture” because it was utilitarian, meaning that its original purpose was to act as a movie prop—not as an artistic creation.

This epic legal saga shed light on the complexities of copyright law in jurisdictions close to home and as far away as the Outer Rim.

​​​​​Kristyn Webb is the Group Leader of Fishman Stewart’s Copyright Practice Group, and holds a Master’s Degree in Copyright Law from King’s College London.


Published May 3, 2024

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