Who's The Evil Empire In The Battle Over Who Owns The Rights To Storm Trooper Costumes?

from the is-this-really-worth-a-legal-fight? dept

And the latest in a never-ending line of ridiculous intellectual property lawsuits, apparently George Lucas is engaged in a battle over who owns the rights to the costume used by storm troopers in the Star Wars movies. It turns out that a guy named Andrew Ainsworth created the original costumes for Star Wars and feels that he therefore has the right to make, market and sell the costumes (which people apparently are buying). Lucas, on the other hand, insists that it's a part of Star Wars and is his intellectual property. To make this more fun, Ainsworth turned around and countersued, claiming not only that he owns the rights to the storm trooper outfit, but that Lucas owes him money for all the merchandising done over the years that involved storm trooper costumes. Frankly, both sides are being a bit ridiculous here, but that's what you get in a world where everyone is convinced that you can "own" something such as a movie costume.


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    The Purple Demon, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 8:52am

    I love you, you love me

    And I designed the original purple dinosaur costume. Barney owes me big flippin time!

     

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    Overcast, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:01am

    The entertainment industry is the one that opened the can of worms... It's nice they have to deal with it too.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:04am

    Now?

    Seriously, why now? Why sue Lucas 30 years after he started making his fortune based on merchandising that included his designs?

    Call me cynical, but I have to guess it's something along the lines of "I've decided to retire and want to buy a large boat/mansion" or "I just realised I haven't done anything worthwhile since".

    I'll admit I don't know what other work this guy's done, but I'll be shocked if one of the above answers doesn't fit the bill.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:08am

      Re: Now?

      RTFA. Lucas sued him first.

       

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        matt, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:19am

        Re: Re: Now? additional article info

        One of the articles I read said he rediscovered his originals recently and that was when he sued, when he found out they had been copying his work this whole time.

        This should be an interesting suit.

         

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        PaulT (profile), Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:40am

        Re: Re: Now?

        Aww... the one time I don't bother to RTFA...

        OK, cynical comments retracted and actually reversed as this now reads like Lucas being overprotective of his brand. A shame as the designs in Star Wars were one of the things that set it apart from its predecessors and imitators.

        Also interesting is that the case has ruled on in the US in favour of Lucas, this new case is just trying to get the UK courts to agree as Ainsworth is English. I'm now hoping Lucas loses, but we'll see.

         

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        Jason, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:51am

        Re: Re: Now?

        yah...but Han Shot First!

         

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      Annon, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:19am

      Re: Now?

      Actually if you read the article, George is suing him over the costume, he is countersueing.

       

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      Joe, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:36am

      Re: Now?

      Well you obviously didn't read the post given that the guy is countersuing Lucas who is suing him for selling Storm Trooper outfits to buyers.

      It seems like the music industry trying to strike out at other businesses who realized their business model is flawed so to fix their model they try to oust the competition.

       

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      Monarch, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:38am

      Re: Now?

      "Seriously, why now? Why sue Lucas 30 years after he started making his fortune based on merchandising that included his designs?"

      It's a counter-suit to the suit filed against him by Lucas Arts. If Lucas Arts would have left him alone, there wouldn't be a counter-suit, and the guy would be content selling his Storm Trooper Armor for $3k a pop.

       

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      comboman, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:51am

      Re: Now?

      Call me cynical, but I have to guess it's something along the lines of "I've decided to retire and want to buy a large boat/mansion" or "I just realised I haven't done anything worthwhile since".

      Are you talking about Lucas or Ainsworth? or both?

       

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      TravisO, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:03am

      Re: Now?

      I couldn't have said it better myself

       

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    JP, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:23am

    Lucas is right

    Lucas is technically right. When someone hires, employs or commissions someone to produce something, whether its programming code, engineering documents, art, costume, whatever the person paying the bill technically owns the rights to the end product. Unless it was agreed upon ahead of time.

    It's nothing more than George's corp lawyers doing their jobs and protecting the trademark.

    no one cares but the parties involved

    JP

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:59am

      Re: Lucas is right

      Your forgetting, these are UK laws. Under UK law contractors own what they make unless there is a specific clause in a contract specifying the person hiring out owns it.

      Per Lucas, there never was a written contract or even a verbal agreement really.

      However, the guys counter suit is textbook laches and will probably get tossed out.

      Lucas has a good chance of losing his current suit however.


      FYI IANAL

       

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      Javarod, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 7:25pm

      Re: Lucas is right

      Actually this can be a bit more complicated with art. I'm a anthro art fan, and most artists that you can commission actually price it based on whether you're buying the original or not, so you own one digital copy to do with as you please, the artist owns the original and any copies they choose to make. Not sure how common that is, but as you can see, art, in this case the suits made by a sub contractor, can get complicated depending on the contract.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:30am

    #7

    good point.

    as a programmer, i don't get paid after i leave the company when my software is used again. heck, i don't get any "bonus" if the sw is used while i am still employed.

    but the question is this the "standard model" i.e. unless otherwise specified, company owns IP produced during employment?

    or is it vague? what about freelancers, do they sell the rights, or just a limited copy and/or rights while still retaining the "original"?

    if there is statute that states company ownes, the artist is boned. if there isn't..it'll be fun.

     

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      TravisO, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:06am

      Re: #7

      Keep in mind the company also pockets all the failures, not just the profits. If you really want profit sharing and commission, then just work for yourself in the big bad world and take the risks. When things tank, you loose thousands, when things succeed you profit and then one-day you'll hire somebody and just pay them hourly or a salary to help out and realize how much of a good idea salary is in a risky market.

       

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    PRM, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:34am

    "Lucas is technically right. When someone hires, employs or commissions someone to produce something, whether its programming code, engineering documents, art, costume, whatever the person paying the bill technically owns the rights to the end product. Unless it was agreed upon ahead of time."

    He is right the costumes and designs in question are considered items produced in a a work for hire scenario. while i consider Lucas a bastard/business genius, here he is in the right. He hired this ungreatful assclown and made him a part of cinema history and instead of allowing this to credit his resume for other opportunities he is trying to win today's game on yesterday's score. It's because of stupid lawyers like this one filing the suit for him. It subjects the law to ad-hoc interpretation and perpetuates distrust and disrespect for the law. There is no more justice for the righteous in the justice system... there is just enough room for the greed that has come into the court room.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:37am

    Doesn't Lucas have enough money?

     

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    A Buyer, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    My Car

    Let's say I custom order and pay for a new car made to my specifications as to exterior and interior color, mix of other options and so forth. Further more, I am the first to order a car made exactly like this and none existed before. Is this a "work for hire"? Then after it is delivered to me I find that the manufacturer is making and selling more of them just like I ordered! Have they stolen my "intellectual property" and can I sue them for it?

    Likewise, after Lucas orders some costumes can he sue the manufacturer for making and selling more of them?

     

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      JP, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:57am

      Re: My Car

      If I can swing at your softball... yes you can and so can he.

       

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        A Buyer, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:16am

        Re: Re: My Car

        If I can swing at your softball... yes you can and so can he.

        That's interesting because I know a fellow in that situation. He pre-ordered a Limited Edition Camaro and his was the first one made in that particular color and equipped as he ordered it. General Motors later made and sold more of them. So you're saying he should sue GM, huh? That's quite a legal theory. I wonder how much he could get.

        You're not a real lawyer, are you?

         

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    JP, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    Recap...

    1 Lucas writes Star Wars and hires Andrew Ainsworth to create the original costumes.

    2. Lucas make Million/Billions with the franchise

    3. 30 years pass and Andrew Ainsworth is creating the costumes off the original designs and selling as "STAR WARS" items, with out approval from Lucas Films

    4. Lucas sues Andrew Ainsworth for IP violation

    5. Andrew Ainsworth countersues.


    Lucas 1 / Ainsworth 0



    JP

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:06am

      Re:

      3. 30 years pass and Andrew Ainsworth is creating the costumes off the original designs and selling as "STAR WARS" items, with out approval from Lucas Films

      Where did you get that information? You're not making it up are you? I looked at his website and I didn't see him selling anything as "STAR WARS" items.

       

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    A Buyer, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 9:58am

    My Suit

    Next, let's say I have a tailor custom make a suit for me. I choose the fabric, color, and style and the tailor makers it. If the tailor then makes a similar for someone else has he infringed my "intellectual property" and can I sue him for it?

     

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    Biff Petty, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:07am

    nobody should own anything

    because we're all one... or something.

     

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    BadAndy, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:10am

    Please understand...

    Lucasfilm has traditionally maintained a very flexible attitude with copyrights. They've allowed fans lots of flexibility with their intellectual properties over the years: fanfilms, fansites, fanfiction, you name it.
    Whereas other companies sue you for just building a snowman that resembles their mascot (not really, but you know what I mean), Lucasfilm does not dump on their fans.

    But to create a product based off of Lucas' universe, you need to go through the proper channels, just like Hasbro and Master Replicas do today... Just like Kenner did in the 80's....
    Things are not any different now. An unlicensed product is still an unlicensed product.

     

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    Spacemanbob, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:12am

    501st Get Ready to give up your suits

    I can see it now. The next 501st gathering at a Fan Fest. Police will check Authenticity of all Storm Trooper Suits and take them if they do not have the mark of Lucas on them.

     

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    metro98k, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:14am

    The courts are strong with this one...

    "Use the courts, Lucas!"

     

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    Colg, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:24am

    "he is trying to win today's game on yesterday's score."

    Thats exactly what IP law has been modified to do.

    Some "assclown" sat in his basement smoking weed with his buddies for a few months, back in the 80's and produced an album, a book or some really bad poetry and he's still getting paid for it. I was building houses back then, the houses are still there, Why don't I get royalties? People are still buying and selling the houses. This joker if he was any good at all on the cultures arbitrary scale never has to work again if he doesn't want to. Life of the creator plus 70 years... his great great grand kids will still be sucking off the tit of his "work" before it runs out.

    if that isn't "win(ning) today's game on yesterday's score." I don't know what is.

    On the other hand, most "Intellectual property" seems to be in the hands of large corporations anyway. It's creators having been paid once for their efforts are by and large happy to keep creating for another hand out.

    These corporations deserve to have this endless payday much more than the creators do anyway... Right?

    Wait... I got of track...

    Hooray for Lucas! I hope he wins and keeps this assclown from making money on something they did together decades ago.

    (eyeroll)

     

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    Bill M, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:27am

    No basis for discussion

    Unfortunately, none of the articles available on this topic cover the most important issue, which is what kind of agreement existed between Lucas and the costume designer.

    Ainsworth's statement, "As far as I am concerned, I am the original maker and I'm using the original moulds," simply isn't enough to assure him legal standing to produce copies.

    Plenty of people who provide original work and content are doing so under the "work for hire" basis. Nevertheless that is an exception to the usual rule that someone who creates a work is the legal author of it. Unless someone can produce a copy of that agreement, we just don't know who is right. Nevertheless, a US court already found in Lucasfilm's favor, so presumably they were able to prove it was in fact their property, regardless of who possesses the molds.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 10:56am

      Re: No basis for discussion

      Unfortunately, none of the articles available on this topic cover the most important issue, which is what kind of agreement existed between Lucas and the costume designer.

      Perhaps there was no agreement that covered future manufacturing rights. That seems plausible since no one is talking about one.

      Unless someone can produce a copy of that agreement, we just don't know who is right.

      Again, what makes you sure such a relevant agreement even exists? However, Ainsworth and not Lucas kept the original molds needed for future production. That might be construed as a tacit admission 30 years ago by Lucas of Ainsworth's right to engage in future production rather than Lucas.

       

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    Mojo, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:15am

    Lucas is right, but...

    Technically, Lucas is correct; he owns the copyright and if someone wants to make Stormtrooper costumes, they need to make a licensing agreement.

    On the other hand, NO ONE has an official license to make Stormtrooper costumes, so Lucas' claim of lost revenue over bootleg costumes is a little baseless. It doesn't mean Ainsworth has any right to do it, but Lucas can't argue that his items have hurt the revenue of any official product.

    THE BIG HIPOCRACY here is that for the Rosebowl parade Lucas "hired" worlwide memebers of the 501st legion to march as Stormtroopers. He didn't want to spend what would have been a fortune to hire and costume hundreds of people, so he employed the services of people he KNEW WERE WEARING BOOTLEG COSTUMES to serve his needs.

    He needed Stormtroopers and was grateful those costumes existed, and now he wants to put the guy who made those costumes out of business.

    This is a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. I don't know if this gives Ainsworth any legal ammo, but it's still something to bring up in court.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:36am

      Re: Lucas is right, but...

      Technically, Lucas is correct; he owns the copyright and if someone wants to make Stormtrooper costumes, they need to make a licensing agreement.

      Why's that? Just you saying so doesn't make it so and you haven't given anything to support your claim.

       

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    jae, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:16am

    It's just business

    @Colg: you're not getting royalties on the homes you built because you had no contract specifying this. You have no contract specifying it because as a commodity (general carpenter, etc) you have no leverage. Had you tried to negotiate a contract with royalties you would have been laughed off the job. It's not done for grunts, just hire another one.

    The bottom line here is that it is recognized IP and as such Andrew is required to license the rights to sell it. Chances are had he done the right thing and contacted Lucas' folks he could have gotten away with giving them a cut and selling his armor. Instead he just did it on the down low and Lucas found out about it and is protecting his interests.

    It's just like the pirate factories in China where they build a copy of all the production tools for, say, a Ford Eclipse or whatever. The first factory makes Fords and the cars are legal, Ford gets a cut. The second factory make Frods and they are illegal and Ford doesn't get a cut. The second scenario is definitely a violation of IP and happens every day with products. If you don't hunt down and prosecute the pirates they will just undercut the business and cause problems with your service record & customer base.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:45am

      Re: It's just business

      The bottom line here is that it is recognized IP and as such Andrew is required to license the rights to sell it.

      But whose IP? Andrew created it so why should he have to license it?

      Chances are had he done the right thing and contacted Lucas' folks he could have gotten away with giving them a cut and selling his armor.

      Whose to say what the right thing would have been? You?

      Instead he just did it on the down low and Lucas found out about it and is protecting his interests.

      You're the first one here to claim that Andrew did this surreptitiously. Do you have some inside information?

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 11:57am

    I think it is kinda hard to argue either way without knowing any details about the contract for the costumes in the movie.

    Regardless of that, I hope Lucas looses anyhow.

     

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    Rekrul, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 12:05pm

    The bottom line here is that it is recognized IP and as such Andrew is required to license the rights to sell it. Chances are had he done the right thing and contacted Lucas' folks he could have gotten away with giving them a cut and selling his armor.


    Without going into who I think is right or wrong, I doubt it would be as simple as just offering Lucas a cut of the profits.

    More than likely, he would probably have had to pay a licensing fee that costs more than he's probably made in the decade. Then there would probably be all kinds of legal red tape, like being required to produce the costumes to Lucas's approval, getting them stamped as official Star Wars mechandise, etc. As for the cut, I'd be surprised if he got to keep even 50% of the profit for each costume. Which would mean he'd probably have to raise the price of the costues and sell less of them.

    While I don't know the details, I'd be very surprised if one man could make afford to get a license to produce official Star Wars costumes and make any money at all at it.

     

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    PRMan, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 12:12pm

    It depends...

    It depends on 2 factors:

    1. What was the agreement?

    Did Lucas and Ainsworth have an agreement before of after Ainsworth made the first Stormtrooper costume?

    Did he say, "Space soldiers, huh? Well what do you think of this costume I have laying around?"

    Ainsworth should win.

    Did Lucas say, "Hey, Ainsworth, can you make me some cool plastic armor for space soldiers?" "Sure, George, I'll get right on it."

    Lucas should win.

    2. If you made a custom dress/car/etc. listed above and then the company sells it to others, the question is:

    Did you get a trademark on it?

    Lucas has a trademark on Stormtrooper costumes, presumably in the categories of visual arts, costumes, toys, etc. Ainsworth does not. He could challenge that Lucas' trademark is invalid because he sold Stormtrooper costumes prior to Star Wars coming out (highly unlikely, though). Otherwise, Lucas got the trademark on the item and nobody else can use it, regardless of whether they were first.

    Taken together, we can compare it to the comic book industry, where the creators of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman BROUGHT their characters to DC while most of the others are work-for-hire. This is the reason why you see "Superman created by... Batman created by... Wonder Woman created by..." but not for any other characters, because the rest were done as work for hire.

    What that tells us is despite DC's trademarks on the big three, the creators still had some rights because the characters were not work-for-hire. So they have to pay their estates and list the actual creators' names when they use them.

    So, again, it should all comes down to whether Ainsworth can prove he had the costume prior to Lucas coming calling. But in today's world, we will probably see the California courts rule in favor of the famous Californian and the British courts rule in favor of the British guy.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 4:09pm

      Re: It depends...

      So, again, it should all comes down to whether Ainsworth can prove he had the costume prior to Lucas coming calling.

      Hmm, so by that theory then the guy who bought the car and the suit above should also win because those items did exist before he came "calling". So far I haven't heard of any such suits though and I wonder why not if your legal theory is sound.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 11th, 2008 @ 7:08am

      Re: It depends...

      This is not an issue of trademarks. As far as I understand, none of the parties are disputing any trademark isssues. From reading the decision of the court in California, Ainsworth may have previously infringed Star Wars trademarks but if you look on his site now, there is no mentioning of star wars anywhere - therefore there is no trademark infringement. Plus you cannot trademark an item - a trademark is only a graphic image with or without text.

      This is an interesting dispute about how copyright and deisgn rights interface.

      And in UK law there is a difference on ownership of copyright depending on wether it was through the course of employment or commissioned. When an item is commissioned the copyright is retained with the creator of the work, subject to any agreement to the contrary. From the information so far released it appears that there was no such agreement as otherwise the dispute would not have arisen.

      Also you have to consider the fact that the Californian decision was a judgement in default, which means that the court took Lucasfilms' submissions as they were. They were not disputed hence they were not properly looked into. Now in High Court 52 there should be an interesting investigation into who actually owns the copyright to the costume and whether there are any design rights involved as well.

       

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    Duodave, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 1:16pm

    Difficulty being sympathetic

    OK. The value of a costume copy being made by the original designer is great enough that I find it significantly difficult to believe Ainsworth couldn't afford to get official licensing rights.

    Again I echo the people who say that the designer developed the costumes initially under contract, making the costume designs the property of LucasArts.

    I hope this turns out with all said parties satisfied, but I cannot see Lucas losing this case.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 4:13pm

      Re: Difficulty being sympathetic

      Again I echo the people who say that the designer developed the costumes initially under contract, making the costume designs the property of LucasArts.

      There was a contract? That information wasn't in the linked article so where did you get it from?

       

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    Tom Black, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 1:48pm

    There's more to this than meets the eye.

    For insiders, the appropriately designated Assclown Ainsworth is little more than a huckster trying to perpetrate his fraud on the public. First and foremost, he didn't design the costumes. The production designers did. He was contracted to vacuform the suits in question. That was his business. He mainly made HDPE fishponds. He used the same material for the original batch of "stunt" helmets and the white paint had a hard time sticking, but he had it on hand for the fish ponds so he used it.

    30 years or so pass by and the guy is in the dumps so he SAYS he found a couple of the old helmet molds and he commences to make and sell new pulls. Thing is, there's a great deal of dispute over whether or not these are the real molds. Most agree that his helmet molds are modified versions of the originals, but they are definitely not exact replicas.

    To make matters worse, AA hasn't got the armor molds, so what did he do? He bought a set of fan made armor and recast them to make his suits that he now sells for more than twice what the underground fans sell them for. This has been well documented in the fan community and most will have nothing to do with AA.

    Like others have said, LFL has been very lenient in terms of copyright when the business stays underground, but if you pop your head out of the sand and beat your chest saying something belongs to you when it definitely does NOT...well, I say AA's getting what he deserves.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2008 @ 4:18pm

      Re: There's more to this than meets the eye.

      If all the facts you allege are true and based on reliable references then that would make a great deal of difference in the story. Unfortunately though, you didn't provide any references, much less reliable ones. Could you please do so?

       

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    Rekrul, Apr 9th, 2008 @ 3:09am

    OK. The value of a costume copy being made by the original designer is great enough that I find it significantly difficult to believe Ainsworth couldn't afford to get official licensing rights.


    Star Wars merchandise has made billions over the years. With any new, well made, SW product, you're looking at potentially millions of sales. Licenses will be priced accordingly.

    But wait you say, he's only one guy, there's no way he can produce millions of costumes, so surely they would charge him a realistic license fee based on what he can afford. Nope, sorry, it doesn't work like that. Why would Lucas give this guy a cheap license to make official costumes, when some other company might come along and offer the full fee so that they can mass-produce them?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 9th, 2008 @ 8:19pm

    Lucas Trolls?

    There seem to have been a number of anonymous comments posted here alleging facts in this case but without any supporting references. Considering that these posts all seem to support Lucas' position it leads to me wonder if Lucas or persons working on his behalf are trolling public forums for the purpose of spreading disinformation about this case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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    identicon
    someone in the know, Jun 2nd, 2008 @ 9:59pm

    Andrew Ainsworth

    He did not create the stormtrooper helmets or armour which is proved in court.

    He was responsible for pulling the vacuum formed suits after they had been designed and sculpted by artists under contract for Lucasfilm.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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