Intellectual Property Disputes: Lucasfilm Limited and others v Ainsworth and another [2011] UKSC 39

Lucasfilm Limited and others v Ainsworth and another [2011] UKSC 39

This intellectual property disputes case involved the creation of Imperial Stormtroopers helmets by a combination of Mr. McQuarrie, Mr. Nick Pemberton and Mr. Andrew Ainsworth.

The final design was approved by George Lucas and 50 of the helmets were made for the use in the first Star Wars movie which has now been renamed Star Wars Episode 4 – A New Hope.

In 2004 Mr. Ainsworth used original moldings to make further versions of the Stormtrooper helmet and sold some of those goods. Ainsworth was sued in the USA for copyright infringement. Mr Ainsworth had no assets in the states so Lucasfilm brought a further claim in the UK court claiming copyright infringement.

The case was brought with Lucasfilm claiming that they owned the copyright design for the Stormtroopers helmet and that had been infringed by Mr. Ainsworth who was selling those helmets. Ainsworth in his defence relied on section 51 and 52 of the Copyrights Design and Patents Act 1988 (CVPA) which exempted the making of 3 dimensional objects from design documents in certain circumstances.

Lucasfilm argued that the helmet was a sculpture. If it had been held to be a sculpture then the exemption would not have applied. At first instance the judge rejected that it was a sculpture, Lucasfilm appealed to the Supreme Court who also held that the helmet was not a sculpture. As it was not a sculpture copyright did not subsist on the issues and the availability of defences to copyright infringement under section 51 and 52 CVPA 1988 fell away.

There is still no defining test as to what is a sculpture. The least objected to definition at the moment appears to be a definition given in a different copyright case by counsel.

“A three dimensional work made by an artists hand”.

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