Helmet Man: The Industrial Designer Who Made The Original Stormtrooper Helmets In 'Star Wars' Was Sued By LucasFilm - And Won
The Force may be strong with George Lucas but Andrew Ainsworth found out the hard way that even a simple model maker like him can win against the "Star Wars" creator in a copyright infringement case, in which he was sued for selling Stormtrooper helmets using the original mold.
Copyright infringement is a massive headache to deal with regardless of which side you're on but it's especially daunting case when you're pitted against the likes of LucasFilm. Luckily for Ainsworth, battling Lucas in court was worth it.
Who Is Andrew Ainsworth?
Back in 1976, Andrew Ainsworth was a simple model and props maker who used resin in building plastic kayaks, cars and other items and he had nothing to do with "Star Wars" until his fellow creator who was involved in the film, Nick Pemberton, approached him to build a prototype for the Stormtrooper helmet and armor. After the design and prototype were approved by George Lucas himself, he went on to produce more for the film and that is where his story began.
Why Did LucasFilm Sue Ainsworth?
By the late 1980's, Ainsworth needed money to pay off school fees and, after rummaging around the old Shepperton Design Studios (SDS) stock room, he found the original molds for the Stormtrooper helmet and decided to produce a few replicas. He did make money but he also received a legal document indicating that LucasFilm is suing him for copyright infringement in California and London. He didn't defend himself in court because he thought the "Star Wars" creator just had a twisted sense of humor and this led to LucasFilm winning the first legal battle in California courts. Ainsworth didn't take the lawsuit seriously until he was demanded to pay LucasFilm $20 million.
"Ninety-nine percent of all legal advice said forget it. Big money always wins... But we honestly believed that nobody can stop you being the artist that you are," Ainsworth said.
Ainsworth Versus LucasFilm
The case which came to be known as "LucasFilm Limited v Ainsworth" may have eventually released Ainsworth from the burden of paying off a huge debt to LucasFilm for copyright infringement but it wasn't an instant happy ending because he was also in debt to pay legal fees for taking action against the company's claim. The whole debacle is a roller coaster ride, really, but the bottom line is that Ainsworth had a shot at winning the case because there was no contract between him and LucasFilm with regard to the Stormtrooper design. Likewise, there was no clear copyright claim on the designs either.
Ainsworth's side decided to attack the case in a different way and that is by asserting that the Stormtrooper design is not an artwork, which would extend Lucas' copyright ownership, but an industrial design. It took him nine years and three British courts before he finally won the war. He wasn't awarded financially, though, which forced him to pay off legal debts in his own, that is, until "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" happened and demand for the Stormtrooper replica and props surged. He is now free from debt he accrued from legal fees and is able to sell his replicas anywhere in the world except in the United States (U.S.) where LucasFilm won.
"It is worth it now because we are on top of it and we have a product line that we created in the first place, albeit with the help of Ralph McQuarrie and Lucas and everybody else in the industry," Ainsworth said.
You can check out and purchase "Star Wars" replicas from Ainsworth's SDS shop. Just take note, though, that the U.S. is out of bounds for his products.