Original Stormtrooper Costume Designer Wins UK Copyright

British court rules that Andrew Ainsworth, who designed the Imperial army costumes for the original “Star Wars,” can continue to make and sell replica helmets locally

Last Updated: July 27, 2011 @ 7:07 PM

In what a Lucasfilm spokesman told the BBC is an “anomaly of British copyright law,” prop designer Andrew Ainsworth won the rights to sell replicas of the original “Star Wars” Stormtrooper helmets, which he designed.

The 62-year-old London-based designer triumphed in a local court on grounds that the costumes were “functional, not artistic works, and so not subject to full copyright laws,” according to the BBC report.

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British Supreme Court judges upheld a 2009 Court of Appeal decision, which allows Ainsworth to continue producing and selling his replicas in the UK.

"Art is like a Rodin sculpture, film production is an industry, and that's what these products are, they were always industrial designs," he told the BBC.

The court also ruled, however, that Star Wars and LucasFilm creator/founder George Lucas’ copyright had been violated in the U.S. But the add-on is not too big of a concern for Ainsworth, who told the BBC he no longer sells his works in the U.S., anyway.

The plastic helmets and armor are replicas from the original 1977 film. Ainsworth has sold the works, commanding upwards of $2,500 for each helmet, for over eight years in the same Twickenham studio where he made classic movie's original costumes.

The BBC reports Lucasfilm filed a $20 million lawsuit, claiming Answorth could not sell the replicas at all because he did not hold their intellectual property rights that the U.S. court upheld. The judgement, however, moved to the UK because the designer no longer sold his works in the states.

The case made its way to Britain's High Court in 2008 after Lucas accused Ainsworth of copyright infringement. It then made its way a year later to the Court of Appeal, and to the UK’s highest court, the Supreme Court, earlier this year, according to the BBC.

The Supreme Court drew the line between functional and artistic works, ruling that the helmets are not considered artistic sculptures, rendering their 15-year copyright protection to have expired.

A Lucasfilm spokesman told the BBC that the company “remains committed to aggressively protecting its intellectual property rights,” adding that such their protections would have been granted in "virtually every other country in the world.”