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Copyright infringement claim in ‘Star Wars’ case

16 November 2011

In the recent case of Lucasfilms Limited and others v Ainsworth and another, Mr Ainsworth, who lives in England, had been selling ‘Star Wars’ helmets and armour. Unimpressed, the film company decided to wage war and brought copyright and trade mark infringement proceedings in America.

A US judgment against Ainsworth included an award of $10m for infringement.

But Lucasfilms’ forces proved to be less strong outside the US. The English courts declined to enforce the American judgment. Lucasfilms pushed on with the case. It was referred to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower English court’s decision. The stormtrooper helmets could not be considered as ‘sculptures’ under English law that protects intellectual property rights (IPR).

The media reporting of the case has tended to reflect the film’s storyline (‘underdog’ defendant overcomes ‘big’ claimant). But from a legal perspective there is a more interesting and significant point.

As the decision shows, the English courts have judicial authority in cases involving US copyright infringement claims because there is no longer legislation preventing this. It is notable that, among other things, the modern trend is in favour of enforcement of foreign IPR. The Court referred to European law, which only assigned exclusive jurisdiction to the country where the IPR originated in certain circumstances, which did not apply in this case.

This could have a considerable implication for future IPR litigation, since it would allow claims for foreign copyright infringement to be dealt with by the English court and when the defendant has a sufficient connection to this jurisdiction, the force may well be with us!

If you need clear and pragmatic legal advice, we’re here to help so please get in touch.

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Nick Cox LLB (Hons)
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