Similar to the news story with the collector filing suit against Christie’s and CBS Paramount late last year (see “Star Trek Collector Sues Christies, CBS & Paramount Studios for $7 Million Dollars“), the story of the legal battle between George Lucas and his Lucasfilm production company and Andrew Ainsworth and his Shepperton Design Studios seems to have captured the interest of the mainstream media, only in this case, the story is much more international. This legal dispute is over the trademark and copyright of the Stormtrooper helmet and other helmets and armor produced for Star Wars: A New Hope. This story has broken very wide, in the last day especially, with well over 150 related stories showing up in Google searches yesterday into today.
Details of the origins of this legal battle can be seen in my story posted Sunday, “Lucasfilm, Andrew Ainsworth Legal Battle Moves to UK“.
Photo showing 26 helmets and armor outside Shepperton Design Studios in 1976, credit StarWarsHelmets.com
Ainsworth has been selling Stormtrooper helmets, armor, and a variety of other helmets from the original Star Wars film for years, without a license from Lucasfilm. Ainsworth claims to have made the original helmets for Lucas as an independent contractor, with no written agreement as to ownership of the designs of the props and costumes he was involved in producing for the film.
Courts in the U.S. already ruled in the favor of the George Lucas company, with $20 million dollars in damages (see Lucasfilm Press Room), and now the battle has moved to the UK where the high courts are to enforce or reject the California ruling as well as consider the countersuit by Ainsworth seeking a share of the estimated $12 billion in merchandising generated from the Star Wars property since release of the first film in 1977.
There has been heated discussions about Andrew Ainsworth and his products by replica prop collectors on the Replica Prop Forum (RPF) for years, since Ainsworth first arrived in the marketplace with Stormtrooper helmets touted as being from the “original maker” and from “the original molds”. There have been a variety of discussions about the source of some of the products, as well as the legitimacy of the “original molds” that appear to be a key component to the arguments made by Ainsworth.
While Ralph McQuarrie is known to have developed the original “two dimension” design and look of the Stormtroopers, Ainsworth claims to created the actual Stormtrooper helmet prop and the other helmets of a derivative design (other Imperial forces, Luke’s X-Wing helmet, etc). Ainsworth offers around 10 such helmets as well as armor/suits.
Replica Stormtrooper helmets and costumes have long been produced in very large numbers by hobbyists and sold for profit on eBay and on forums like the RPF for years and years, all unlicensed sales, like Ainsworth’s. These other unlicensed replicas have come from fan-made sculpts as well as pulls (copies) from original suits and helmets used in the films. Lucasfilm seems to have turned a blind eye to much of this activity, in that there is much fan enthusiasm by those who wear such costumes at fan events and for various charitable causes.
In any event, it will be interesting to see if this story has more “legs” than the unrelated Christie’s and CBS Paramount lawsuit story that seemed to have disappeared from any mention in the mainstream media after about four days of coverage (see “Star Trek Christie’s Lawsuit – A Four Day News Story?“).
I believe the outcome of this case will have further impacts and consequences in both the hobby and the film and television industries, related to manufacture and sale of unlicensed replicas, more widespread copyright and trademark issues, sale of original props/production material, such items “walking off the set”, licensing and agreements with independent contractors to studios and production companies (past and future), the state of original Star Wars props in the marketplace, and more.
I will continue to monitor this story and the mainstream media reporting on it until it reaches its conclusion.
For more information on the origins of the Stormtrooper armor and helmets, see StarWarsHelmets.com.
Jason De Bord