Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Force is Strong With This One

So George Lucas, creator of the multi-billion dollar empire known as "Star Wars" (and a few other notable movies) just lost a British copyright case over Mr. Ainsworth, a prop designer's use of original molds from 1976 to create Stormtrooper helmets.1

The U.K. court's decision attempted to discern whether the helmets were protectable as sculptures, ultimately decided they were not based on U.K. caselaw and the applicable facts in question (bummer for Mr. Ainsworth).2 Also notable was the U.K. court's refusal to extend jurisdiction to the US and allow the designer to avoid paying U.S. damages because of his limited contacts (just had a Civil Procedure I flashback....).3 The court did include an admonition to Mr. Ainsworth that he should probably not sell any more helmets to the U.S. Excellent idea Judge.

Overall, I think it's an interesting story because there are some copyright holders who are well known to be extremely protective of their copyrights or other rights. I don't have anything against this, except for the David v. Goliath court matchups that often result. Lucasfilm suing a London prop designer, Yoko Ono reigning in the use of the incredibly popular Beatles' music, etc. These people are acting well within their rights4 (generally) but there are times where I feel like the fight is not worth the time and expense to hire expensive copyright lawyers to sue some little guy. The counter argument of course is that if you DON'T enforce as strictly as they do, more people will infringe, etc. The slippery slope argument, which to be honest, has never held much water with me in the first place. Empirical research has demonstrated that a copyright's value is usually short lived.5 Mr. Lucas's and Mr. Lennon's works are atypical and for that reason perhaps, they should be more vigilant. And the debate continues...

Happy Holidays

1: Lucas v. Ainsworth, [2008] EWHC 1878 (Ch) (U.K.).
2: Id.
3: Id.
4: See 17 U.S.C. § 106.
5: I don't actually have any empirical research for this...if someone does and would like to share, that would be fabulous.

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