Star Wars ‘Stormtrooper’ helmets are not sculptures within the meaning of UK copyright legislation and cannot be protected as such under English Law. Neither can a US court judgment against a UK maker of plastic toy helmets be enforced in England, according to a recent Court of Appeal judgment.
The case concerned a UK maker of plastic toy Stormtrooper helmets sold over the internet, mostly to UK customers although some, inevitably, found their way into the USA. These US sales resulted in a successful claim in the Californian Courts, resulting in a compensation order for $10 million against the maker, a Mr Ainsworth, and his company.
An earlier decision by the High Court, which ruled that the mass produced helmets, although created by a process of moulding, were primarily utilitarian in function and not sculptures for the purposes of Section 4 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, meant that the manufacturers of the toy helmets were free to make and market their products. This is because design rights subsist for only 25 years after the product is first marketed. If the toys had been deemed to be sculptures, the copyright would have lasted for 60 years after the sculptor’s death.
This ruling was challenged by Lucasfilm, owners of the Star Wars merchandising rights. Lucasfilm also sought enforcement of the Californian judgment.
The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling that there was no restriction in English law preventing the making and marketing of the toy helmets. It was further held that the Californian judgment could not be enforced in English jurisdictions because copyright is a local matter for local courts.
It is a long-established principle that the mere selling of a product in one country that originates in another does not amount to a presence of the vending company in the other country. The fact that the internet makes products available worldwide does not alter that principle. However, Mr Ainsworth was advised against extending US sales of the toy helmets any further.