English Prop Designer Defeats George Lucas In Epic Final Battle
Press Release: 27 July 2011, Lucasfilm Ltd v Ainsworth
After 5 years of litigation spanning the Atlantic, George Lucas has been comprehensively defeated in his efforts to shut down the English prop designer Andrew Ainsworth.
Mr Lucas was joined in the litigation by a supporting cast of some of the best known film makers in the world, including Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, James Cameron and Jon Landau, who wrote letters of intervention to the Supreme Court in an attempt to tip the balance against Mr Ainsworth. The Motion Picture Association (which represents all of the major film studios) also lent its weight to Mr Lucas’ cause along with other copyright protection groups representing a range of institutions including the FBI.
Mr Ainsworth, the original maker of most of the helmets in the first Star Wars movie (including the iconic white "Stormtrooper" helmet and armour), manufactures and sells replicas for high-end memorabilia collectors, using the original tools and moulds, which he retained. Mr Lucas set his considerable litigation forces in motion against Mr Ainsworth in 2006 in California and has pursued him relentlessly ever since.
On Wednesday 27 July the UK Supreme Court found that whilst Mr Ainsworth cannot export his props to the USA, he is free to continue manufacturing from his studio in Twickenham without any form of licence from Mr Lucas, and to continue using the original tools and moulds.
"I am delighted to have won the right to continue to make these replicas from the original tools and moulds. It has been a huge struggle, and an enormous distraction, for me to defend for so long against a determined billionaire with an army of lawyers and the support of leading film makers. I can now focus on producing authentic replicas for serious collectors of these items in the UK. I am very grateful to my legal team, SC Andrew LLP, George Hamer and Alastair Wilson QC who acted throughout on a conditional fee agreement but gave no quarter. I am proud to report that in the English legal system David can prevail against Goliath if his cause is right. If there is a force, then it has been with me these past 5 years."
Mr Lucas had argued that all of the props from his films should be protected in the same way as a sculpture, which would mean that for 70 years after the death of the artist no one would have been able to copy them (e.g. by making toy figures or replicas) without Mr Lucas' permission. Mr Ainsworth successfully argued that film props should be protected in the same way as industrial designs, which are afforded a much shorter period of protection (up to a maximum of 25 years).
The Supreme Court also set to rest the debate as to whether claims for infringement of foreign copyright law can be litigated in the UK courts. It is now clear that the UK courts can entertain such claims, opening the way for claims to be brought in the UK courts in respect of worldwide copyright infringements involving potentially dozens of foreign legal systems. The Court of Appeal had refused to allow such claims to be brought in the UK courts, citing amongst other difficulties the dangers of forum shopping, in their judgment in 2009 which was subsequently followed by the Supreme Court of South Africa.
SC Andrew LLP is a specialist dispute resolution firm with offices in London and the British Virgin Islands.
Alastair Wilson QC is an intellectual property specialist and head of Hogarth Chambers in Lincoln's Inn, London.
George Hamer is a leading intellectual property specialist at 8 New Square Chambers, Lincoln's Inn, London.
All enquires should be directed to Seamus Andrew, the partner in charge of the matter, at SC Andrew LLP. Email: email@example.com Telephone : 020 7183 1701