Stormtroopers in The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, successor of the world-renowned House of Lords, is the highest court of the land, it passes judgement on only matters of the highest legal importance. Cases heard within these walls call upon counsel of the highest caliber and, in turn, are heard by some of the most educated and respected ears within the legal world. Not a place for a “Micky Mouse dispute”, then.

Therefore, as fans would no doubt agree, the dispute over Stormtrooper helmet design between Lucasfilms and Shepperton Design Studios could be litigated in no other court.

And, who better to represent George Lucas’s Lucasfilm than he who is described as one of the most sought after advocates in the country, Jonathan Sumption QC (Brick Court Chambers). Sumption’s curriculum vitae would make any barrister green with envy, he’s representing billionaire tycoon Roman Abramovich in an ongoing dispute, and is off to sit as a judge in the Supreme Court, need I say more?

So, why the battle? Shepperton Design Studios (hereinafter “SDS”) is an unauthorised manufacturer of replica Star Wars memorabilia, including the Stormtrooper helmet. The dispute in fact began in 2006 in the U.S. when Lucasfilm filed a claim that SDS has infringed a copyright by manufacturing these helmets and further claimed that SDS had made false claims relating to the moulds and their status – SDS did not defend the decision and awarded Lucasfilm $20 million. The case was argued in the High Court of Justice to ensure the U.S. decision would have effect in the English jurisdiction.

It was assumed the Supreme Court case would be a sure win for Lucasfilm after it had been thrown out by Mr Justice Mann in the High Court, after all, it was in the capable hands of Jonathan Sumption QC. Sadly not, the Supreme Court in 2011 held that the helmet design was not a work of art or sculpture but indeed an industrial prop, shortening the length of copyright protection to 15 years after it was first marketed.   The case was pivotal around SDS’s claim that the helmet was an industrial design, as opposed to a work of art, and as such not bound by Lucasfilm’s copyright.

As it has been dubbed, on this occasion, “[t]he force is not with Sumption”. http://www.thelawyer.com/the-force-is-not-with-sumption/1008774.article

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