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Despite a flurry of comments about epic (even intergalactic) battles between good and evil, Lucasfilm’s copyright appeal against prop designer Andrew Ainsworth has been heard by the UK Supreme Court with very little media coverage.  So, in case you missed it, here’s the scoop.

The case revolves around the unauthorized manufacture and sale over the Internet of replica Stormtrooper helmets and body armor by the individual originally commissioned to create these for Star Wars IV: A New Hope, in the mid-1970s.  Lucasfilm, having already won a default judgment and a damages award of $20m in California, filed suit in the High Court of England and Wales on three claims:

  1. Enforcement of the California default judgment;
  2. A finding that Lucasfilm’s US copyrights had been infringed; and
  3. A finding that Lucasfilm’s UK copyrights had been infringed.

After appeals and cross-appeals to the Court of Appeal, Lucasfilm lost on all counts and left the court empty-handed.  There’s a good summary of the judgment here.  In its latest appeal (case ID:  UKSC 2010/0015), Lucasfilm asks the Supreme Court to make a finding on:

  1. What copyright protection is provided by English law to three-dimensional works (“Issue 1”).
  2. Whether a claim that US copyright law has been infringed is justiciable in England (“Issue 2”).

(This wording of the issues is found on the Supreme Court’s website here.)

A couple of quick questions spring to mind.  First, if the helmets and armor are to be deprived of copyright protection because in the films they are functional and lack aesthetic appeal, will the Court explain what exactly their function is?  I re-watched Episodes IV, V and VI a couple of weeks ago and am certain that: 1) they offer no protection against any of the rebels’ weaponry; and 2) they look awesome.  Second, if the Supreme Court hands down its decision on 4 May 2011, can we predict headlines incorporating “May the fourth”?

There is no indication yet of when the Court will hand down its judgment.  Watch this space for more details or follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/garethdickson).

In the meantime, you can read the UK Supreme Court blog’s preview of the case here.

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