We’re often asked how designs can be protected; unfortunately the answer to such a pertinent question is not always straightforward. A common misconception is that all designs can be protected by copyright; this isn’t the case as the recent Lucasfilm v Andrew Ainsworth case illustrates.
Andrew Ainsworth a prop designer based in Twickenham, was said to have infringed the copyright of Lucasfilm by selling replicas of the Imperial Stormtroopers’ armour and helmet. Ainsworth, who was commissioned by Lucasfilm to create the armour and helmet for the initial Star Wars film released in 1977, used the original moulds to make the alleged infringing articles. By making a replica of the helmet, Lucasfilm claimed that Ainsworth had infringed the copyright in the design drawings of the helmet. The judge hearing the case disagreed, explaining that if the helmet was to be protected by copyright, it would have to be regarded as a sculpture or a work of artistic craftsmanship and not as an artistic work which the design drawings would be considered as. The judge concluded that since the helmet was a prop, it could not be regarded as a sculpture or a work of artistic craftsmanship, ruling that copyright had not been infringed.
Admittedly this is a complicated case, but if there is a moral to this tale it is this - before taking legal action against a third party that you feel has infringed the copyright in your designs, make sure that copyright subsists; otherwise it could be a very expensive lesson in copyright law.