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Imperial Storm Troopers Skirmish in Latest IP Battle 261

Posted by Zonk
from the oh-those-wacky-imps dept.
fm6 writes "According to guardian.co.uk, George Lucas is suing the designer of the Imperial Stormtrooper armor. Andrew Ainsworth took the original molds he used to make the props for the movies, and has been using them to make outfits that sell for up to £1,800 (US$3,600) apiece. Ainsworth has countersued for a share of the $12 billion that Star Wars merchandise has generated since the first movie."
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Imperial Storm Troopers Skirmish in Latest IP Battle

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  • Ungrateful Lucas? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Izabael_DaJinn (1231856) * <slashdot@NoSpAM.izabael.com> on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:22PM (#22996288) Homepage Journal
    Lucas Licensing called the prop designer a "fan" even though he created the Stormtroopers!

    A spokesman for Lucas Licensing said: "We would never want to discourage fans from showcasing their enthusiasm for the movies. However, anyone who tried to profit from using our copyrights and trademarks without authorisation ... we will go after them."

    This guy made one of the really cool things about Star Wars!! We all see the sort of nonsense Lucas came up with without this guy :-( Nothing in the newer 3 movies was there anything as memorable as Stormtroopers. Am I wrong??

    TFA doesn't really say anything about the details of the original contract, but it seems ridiculous for someone with the money of God to come after a little guy who did so much to make his movies distinctive.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I think that holders of copyrights and trademarks are obligated to protect them or else risk losing the copyright or trademark.

      On the other hand, Lucas could make a sweetheart deal to license the trademarks and copyrights and not be at risk of losing the rights while also doing what sounds like the right thing by the person that contributed a huge amount to the Lucas "empire".
      • Re:Ungrateful Lucas? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Dun Malg (230075) on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:35PM (#22996378) Homepage

        I think that holders of copyrights and trademarks are obligated to protect them or else risk losing the copyright or trademark.
        trademark, yes. copyright, no.
        • Correct! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 07, 2008 @11:52PM (#22996842)
          > trademark, yes. copyright, no.

          You are correct in saying that you have to defend a trademark but do NOT have to defend a copyright, so I'll add on to that. IANAL, but unless there was a copyright assignment with a 'written memorandum of transfer' (I learned that one from SCO v. Novell; copyright law being federal, it applies to the whole USA), THE COSTUME MAKERS own whatever copyright there could be on the costume. Though I assume that Lucas owns the trademark. True, it could be a 'work for hire', but I think that only applies to individuals working for some company (and it would probably have to be spelled out), so I don't know.

          I should also mention that while trademarks have to be defended, you are NOT required by law to be a dick when defending them (even if it seems that way). I think it was Second Life where they sent the "Get a First Life!" people a "Permit & Proceed" letter that let them know they were *okay* with using the trademark.

          Lucas? Sounds like he believes he deserves all the money from anything related in any way to Star Wars, even if he did absolutely none of the work in creating it, simply because he came up with Star Wars to begin with.

          So yeah, I'm not really going to take either side here, but I just want to say that if they had any sense, they'd come up with some kind of arrangement that doesn't involve suing each other, or there won't be any money left to fight over.
          • Re:Correct! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by electrictroy (912290) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @08:07AM (#22999178)
            IMHO

            George Lucas showed unusual intelligence when he asked FOX Studios for the rights to the merchandise. Prior to 1976, virtually no other filmmakers did that, because it was believed by both directors and studios that "toys" were worthless, and the real money was in the film.

            FOX was more than happy to sign that contract, because they thought Lucas was a fool. Well Lucas turned-out to be smarter than everybody else. And the fact that Andrew Ainsworth in 1976 failed to request payment for post-movie merchandishing is HIS OWN FAULT, and he has no one to blame but himself.

            George Lucas' contract with Fox gives him the right to make money off the merchandise.

            Andrew Ainsworth's contract does not; he could have requested a share, but he chose not to. His own dumb fault.

      • Re:Ungrateful Lucas? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @01:16AM (#22997206) Homepage
        You may -think- so. But you're simply wrong.

        There is absolutely nothing you can do, or fail to do, to "lose" a copyright.

        Trademarks yes, those can be commoditized. But that is completely irrelevant as Lucas does not, infact, have a trademark on the design of the stormtrooper-armour.
    • by King_TJ (85913) on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:33PM (#22996366) Journal
      I thought it was pretty blatantly obvious by now that George Lucas is out to milk the Star Wars franchise for every dollar he can squeeze from it. This sort of thing would be par for the course, coming from him.

      To an extent, that's not even necessarily a "bad thing". One of the moves Lucas made in the beginning which he's often admired/noted for was his shrewdness in securing the rights to royalties on all the toys and products (which Hollywood thought was worthless).

      I think the information we're lacking here is the legal contract made between him and the set designer.... If it's clear that Lucas didn't allow the guy to go off and make money duplicating Stormtrooper outfits, then Lucas is in the right to sue him. Otherwise, I'd say he deserves to lose this case.
      • by Saint Fnordius (456567) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @01:40AM (#22997332) Homepage Journal
        That's the problem right there. The designer as artist also has unalienable rights, and most likely he signed a boilerplate contract selling Lucas' production company the suits without addressing the issue of derivative designs or casting new suits. Such a thing was probably not even considered a possibility all those thirty-odd years ago.

        The article states that a California court already ruled in favour of Mr. Lucas, but that ruling doesn't apply since Mr. Ainsworth is a Briton and most likely signed his contract under British law. That suggests to me that there may be some merit to the claim, possibly hinging on Ralph McQuarrie's concept design drawings/paintings, but Mr. Ainsworth is also a designer, and I think he could successfully argue that his designs are a derivative but separate artwork, and his counter-suit could have merit.

        I think the real reason for Mr. Lucas' suit is as a warning shot to all of those prop designers who worked for the original Star Wars movies, in an attempt to maintain total control over his merchandising empire. It's not about the money, but keeping control, and I personally feel that it's a very selfish act.
        • Re:Ungrateful Lucas? (Score:5, Informative)

          by wild_berry (448019) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @05:02AM (#22998212) Journal
          If these were commissioned, designed and made in the UK, then there's no inherent rights remaining. The UK (and Europe) have a maximum of 25 years on Registered industrial design rights, and either 15 years (GB) or 3 (EU) for unregistered design rights. There's the possibility that the designer is riding the shirt tails of the Star Wars phenomenon and is therefore an unlicensed user of its trade mark. But without branding (like "Star Wars(TM) Storm Trooper(TM) Suit!" -- with notes that "Star Wars" and "Storm Trooper" are trademarks of their respective owners) there's nothing to stop him using the public domain property.

          Such a thing was probably not even considered a possibility all those thirty-odd years ago.

          Yes, it was. Trade mark law in the UK is more than a century old; UK has had a Registered Designs Act since 1949 which moves industrial use of copyrighted work from the life + 50 years (as was) of Copyright to a maximum of 25 years when registered with the UK Patent Office.

          I am not a patent or trade mark attorney and this is not legal advice.
      • "If it's clear that Lucas didn't allow the guy to go off and make money duplicating Stormtrooper outfits, then Lucas is in the right to sue him."

        I'd say that would be a legal right then, but not a moral one.

        He doesn't have to do it for the money, does he? And I don't see another decent reason to go after one of the creative minds that helped make your movie into a classic.
      • by elrous0 (869638) *
        I will *not* thank Lucas for starting the Hollywood "backend" phenomenon. It's just this sort of thing that led to increasingly out-of-control budgets for "blockbuster" movies that have made them increasingly annoying over the decades. Now we're stuck with droves of movies that are filled with how-do-we-top-ourselves special FX, overpaid celebrity-of-the-moment-actors, extensive audience testing that relentlessly strips anything worthwhile from the original script, product placement that's gone beyond distr
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by silentphate (1245152)
      The storm troopers were originally George Lucas idea in the first place. What was created by Ainsworth was depicted by what George Lucas wanted to see. I believe that still makes is property of Lucasfilm.
      • by dougmc (70836) <dougmc+slashdot@frenzied.us> on Monday April 07, 2008 @11:46PM (#22996812) Homepage
        I'm not sure it's quite that cut and dried.


        If I ask you to design some futuristic looking armor for some soldiers, and you do so without much more input from me beyond `I like it!', then you'd own the copyright on that. If we both worked on it equally, we'd probably both own the copyright.

        If I paid you to design and make the design for the armor, then the contract would probably say who owned the copyright. If there's no written contract, then there's probably some law (`work for hire') that covers the situation, but I'm not so sure about that.

        In this case, I would have expected that Lucas paid to have the design made, and there was probably a written contract and it probably assigned complete ownership of the final work (including the copyrights) to Lucas. But perhaps Lucas didn't fully lawyer up and there's some holes in this theory ...

        • Re:Ungrateful Lucas? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Kierthos (225954) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @12:09AM (#22996892) Homepage
          Unless I did it as part of a "work for hire" agreement. If he (Ainsworth) did the work under such an agreement, then he doesn't own the copyright (or any creation rights) on the armor he originally created for Lucas.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by hey! (33014)
            Well, I suppose the first and most important question was what was in the contract? The contract could enjoin this guy from doing anything with the molds ever.

            After that, I'd say the question is who did the actual design? Costumes may be fashion statements, but they can also be props; as props I think they probably deserve the kind of copyright protection that other elements of the movie get. If Lucas sketched out the designs, handed them to the fabricator and said "make a bunch of these", the design w
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          If I ask you to design some futuristic looking armor for some soldiers, and you do so without much more input from me beyond `I like it!', then you'd own the copyright on that. If we both worked on it equally, we'd probably both own the copyright.


          What if there was already concept art [df.lth.se]?
    • "Nothing in the newer 3 movies was there anything as memorable as Stormtroopers. Am I wrong??"

      For better or worse I think that Jar Jar Binx is more memorable.

      mmmm ... for worse. Definitely for worse. Still, more memorable.
    • by Joce640k (829181) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @01:17AM (#22997210) Homepage
      It certainly doesn't stop blasters or light sabers. What use is it?

    • This guy made one of the really cool things about Star Wars!! We all see the sort of nonsense Lucas came up with without this guy :-( Nothing in the newer 3 movies was there anything as memorable as Stormtroopers. Am I wrong??

      Who could ever forget Jar-Jar? He was sure memorable!
  • by Datamonstar (845886) on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:26PM (#22996314)
    when you can just use a RepRap?
  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:28PM (#22996330)
    I am altering the deal. Pray I don't alter it any further.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:30PM (#22996348)
    Kaiser Wilhelm II is suing them both for use of the term "Stormtrooper".
  • by mckinnsb (984522) on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:34PM (#22996372)
    If the contract signs over all work to Lucas Film, this guy may be in a bit of a bind. If it doesn't, Lucas Film is in a bind.

    I bet you two different contracts are presented.

    Logical mode off: Its a goddamn Storm Trooper Costume! He was making them for 3k! You make millions of dollars! Go home!
  • I've watched documentaries and read books about Star Wars... one of the genius moves Lucas made was to make the studios sign away all the merchandising rights to him. This was before merchandising was a big thing (Lucas helped make it big!).

    The question is is do those clauses extend to sold props and replicas of props...? IANAL so don't ask me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by The MAZZTer (911996)

      Ugh I'm tired. A correction.

      Obviously the prop designer is not bound by that specific contract, but he might have had an employee contract or the prop/mold he used might still technically belong to the studio or Lucas or something. Obviously the courts in California found something but the article is light in this area.

  • by sootman (158191) on Monday April 07, 2008 @10:53PM (#22996498) Homepage Journal
    ... for the Special Edition lawsuit, where Andrew sues first.
  • That's not really IP. It's an actual, physical mould making actual physical objects. This is barely about the stormtrooper image itself.
  • It sounds like one of these vague cases where everyone is fighting over the money, even though there is more than enough money to go around. It is why the term "Hollywood accounting" exists, and why so many thinks that the average hollywood executive makes the average investment banker look like mother teresa.

    In any case, the article makes it appear that Lucas just bought several dozen of the costumes, and did not in fact commission the design nor purchase the rights. OTOH, the designer sold the costume

  • IANAL, but I'm pretty sure Ainsworth's claims of damages going back to 1977 is a textbook case of laches [wikipedia.org] and will probably be dismissed on those grounds.
  • why? (Score:4, Funny)

    by blakecraw (1235302) on Monday April 07, 2008 @11:41PM (#22996790)
    The design wasn't even any good. One blaster shot and they're finshed!
    • Worse yet they couldn't hit the ground if they dropped their guns while wearing them. They were kind of channeling Ned Kelly only the armor couldn't stop a blaster round let alone a bullet. They probably would have been better off fighting in "G" Strings so they could at least hit what they aimed at. I guess visually it wouldn't have been as cool having a bunch of guys running around dressed like skinny Sumo Wrestlers with guns. That's an image that sticks with you for all the wrong reasons.
  • And here was me thinking that we'd finally run out of IPv4 addresses and that the storm troopers had been deployed to sort the problem out.
  • All in all, it depends on the contract they signed. If this guy signed away his rights, he's screwed... and if he didn't, he probably has a case.

    • by adona1 (1078711)
      And if he wins, does that mean he can sue Lucas again for copyright infringment in episodes II & III? That clone armour seems to be a derivative work, even if it was retconned into the franchise :)
  • by Vthornheart (745224) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @12:25AM (#22996946)
    This isn't the first frivolous lawsuit he's done lately. He tried to sue the pants off of this warehouse company a year ago or so because he kept his storage facility in bad condition and one of his R2D2 props got moldy.

    I don't know the details of it, but my grandmother in law works for a sister company of the warehouse that was getting sued. Apparently it was enough that if it hadn't been dismissed, it would've sent them into immediate bankruptcy.
  • It sounds like Lucasfilm may have screwed up and not gotten a contract. That said where the guy screwed up was using original molds. They are technically the property of Lucasfilm since they paid for them. He may have been in his rights reproducing the design but not using the molds. I used to know John Stears back in the early 80s. He told about Lucas getting him to sign over the rights to R2D2 and the land speeder for the promise of more work. Rights up until then had no value so he opted for the addition
  • by Misagon (1135) on Tuesday April 08, 2008 @09:45AM (#23000262)

    Brian Muir is known as the sculptor of the original Stormtrooper armor, and Nick Pemberton is believed to have sculpt most of the helmet. Andrew Ainsworth's company manufactured the outfit. Of course, there must have been some interaction between these people during the process. Some prototypes were made, and refined. It is possible that Liz Moore (who sculpt C-3PO) was involved, but she died in 1976, so it is difficult to tell.

    Andrew Ainsworth's company refined the molds after the production of the first movie to simplify production. It is believed by fans that Ainsworth kept some of the latter molds, which he when setting up his new business in recent years, modified back to produce casts more like the screen-used pieces. Some pieces of his Stormtrooper outfit are recast from pieces made by fans in recent years, who never gave Ainsworth permission to recast their sculpts.

    If you want a Stormtrooper helmet and/or armor, then there are other "fan-made" armor that is actually more accurate to the original (recast from original screen-used armor), and also of better build and much cheaper.

    Lucasfilm is not going after fans making and selling Stormtrooper armor. They are only going after those who are making a high-profile business out of it, like Andrew Ainsworth.

    On the contrary, Lucasfilm is often cooperating with a fan organization called the 501st Stormtrooper Legion [501st.com], which, being the largest costuming club in the world, has a few thousand members owning Stormtrooper costumes. George Lucas himself has appeared at events to meet and greet members and thank them for their appearance. The name "501st Legion" has even entered official canon, given to a group seen in the last movie. Almost all of the Stormtrooper cosplayers in the 501st Legion bought their armor from one of the dozen makers that exist - none of which has any licensing agreement with Lucasfilm. Licensed armor does not exist.

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