Can Laser Maker Be Blamed For Blogs Comparing Laser To Star Wars Lightsabers?

from the the-force-is-not-strong-with-this-one dept

Consumerist points us to an odd story, where George Lucas has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Wicked Lasers, saying that the company’s Pro Arctic Laser is too similar in design to the infamous lightsaber from the Star Wars flicks. But here’s where it gets a little odd. Wicked Lasers claims that it doesn’t market the product as a toy and has never suggested or marketed it as being anything like a lightsaber. In fact, it appears that Lucas’ complaint is that blogs like Gizmodo and DailyTech have referred to it as some form of “real life lightsaber,” and that this is somehow the company’s fault. As for the similarities, well, below is a marketing photo of the Pro Arctic alongside a photo from someone who’s apparently collecting all of the lightsabers used in the Star Wars movies. There may be some loose similarities, but does this mean that no similar handles could ever be used on a laser-like device?

The Pro Arctic (not a toy) laser from Wicked Lasers

Some lightsabers from various Star Wars movies (courtesy of OohYeah Zone)

I guess the argument is that if blogs are calling it a “lightsaber,” that many people will make the similar leap. But that reasoning also seems to lead to troubling conclusions. Would it mean that no one could actually create a “lightsaber-like” device in reality without getting approval from George Lucas? That doesn’t seem right…

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Companies: lucasefilm, wicked lasers

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Comments on “Can Laser Maker Be Blamed For Blogs Comparing Laser To Star Wars Lightsabers?”

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60 Comments
Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hmm...

I based my comment on this statement from the article…

“It is apparent from the design of the Pro Arctic Laser that it was intended to resemble the hilts of our lightsaber swords, which are protected by copyright … ,” said the letter, dated last month and provided to CNN by Wicked Lasers.

The reference to trademark is actually by the CEO of Wicked Lasers, not by Lucas…

“They’re a big company that needs to protect their trademarks. Maybe they’re having to look like they’re protecting their trademark in case they need to [protect it again] later.”

Let’s hope that the lawyer that he hires doesn’t also confuse trademark with copyright.

M Type says:

Re: Re:

Did the Roddenberry estate get comped for cellphone design based on Star Trek’s communicator gadgets?

And yeah, as someone said above, did flashlight designers get comped by Lucas?

Can you even get comped for something that doesn’t actually exist? I could understand if it was a real working, um, sword of light thing…not for use by kids…of course…

Anonymous Coward says:

Lucas’ issue is going to be that there is not one “lightsaber.” Every one looks different and there are dozens of them (to hunderds between the novels, movies, games, comics, cartoons, etc.), so how do you come up with a test for what looks too much like a lightsaber. It’s clearly not a direct copy although it is fundamentally similar is overall shape.

Scote (profile) says:

Yeah, it looks like a lightsaber

Let’s face it. It looks a fair bit like a lightsaber. And it is a genuinely powerful laser. So the comparison is obvious. But it doesn’t copy any specific Lucas arts design and the original lightsabers were made out of old press camera flash handles. Did Lucas ever pay Graphlex for infringing on their design?

http://www.fx-sabers.com/forum/index.php?topic=5996.0

So I’d say the Pro Arctic Laser looks like a Graphlex flash handle. “Lightsabers” are derivative works not original creations. And I, for one, do not confuse the the Pro Arctic Laser with the Lucas Arts trademark.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m not one for the intricacies of copy right law, but just a cursory analysis of the two images makes them look pretty similar. I don’t know why Wicked Lasers designed the way it did, but the design certainly seems like it takes elements from the typical lightsabre design.

Whether that means anything, I have no clue, but I at least would acknowledge that the two look similar (and I imagine, unnecessarily so). As another commenter already noted, its clearly created some confusion online with a large number of people immediately comparing the two, despite the rather different uses.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

created some confusion online with a large number of people immediately comparing the two

It has not created any confusion. There is not a single person on this planet who was actually confused into thinking that this laser is in fact an actual Star Wars lightsaber. The “large number of people” were actually only a few bloggers making an analogy between them.

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It has not created any confusion.

This is a copyright issue, not a trademark issue, so I don’t think that consumer confusion is relevant. I think the only thing that Lucas would have to prove is whether the laser infringes on his copyright. This angle isn’t without its own issues, but as far as I understand, consumer confusion isn’t a criteria for copyright infringement.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This is a copyright issue, not a trademark issue

I never said it was either. I was just responding to something an ignorant Anonymous Coward wrote.

And BTW, the CNN article linked above does mention trademark, although almost certainly erroneously. Laypeople can never get copyrights, trademarks, and patents right.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

As another commenter already noted, its clearly created some confusion online with a large number of people immediately comparing the two, despite the rather different uses.

Comparing the two does not mean there is confusion. No one picks up one of these lasers and thinks it’s a lightsaber or associated at all with George Lucas.

We recently talked about the FAA approving flying cars and lots of news articles compared it to the flying cars in the Jetsons. Does that mean there’s confusion? I don’t think so…

Hulser (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Comparing the two does not mean there is confusion. No one picks up one of these lasers and thinks it’s a lightsaber or associated at all with George Lucas.

But the C&D letter invokes copyright, not trademark, so it’s not about the subjective idea of whether the average consumer would be confused or think that the laser was being the sold by Lucas, but whether there are enough objective similarities between the laser and a lightsaber. Right?

We recently talked about the FAA approving flying cars and lots of news articles compared it to the flying cars in the Jetsons. Does that mean there’s confusion? I don’t think so…

Right, but what if the flying car also looked very similar to the Jetsons flying car? I think that would be a better analogy. Lucas isn’t suing all makers of lasers, just the one that made a laser that most people would agree looks like a lightsaber.

(BTW, I’m not saying that Lucas should win. As another person mentioned, I think that Wicked Lasers can make a case that the form of the laser has more to do with the human hand than with an effort to infringe on Lucas’ copyright. Wasn’t there some story about chocolate bunnies that referenced this principle?)

Nastybutler77 (profile) says:

Re: What about Star Trek?

Along those lines, what about any concept a sci-fi writer comes up with that someday becomes technically possible? Say we get matter to energy transmission worked out, or warp drives become feasible, does that mean Roddenberry’s estate can sue the first company that brings it to market for copyright infringement?

That’s all about promoting science and the usefull arts I guess.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It is kinda obvious that the hand-me-down lightsaber Luke first got was just one of those with a few added bits. I always thought it was kind of an odd shape considering how all the others are.

As for the pro arctic, I always thought it was based off of the lightsaber, but I never actually thought it was official. I guess it being based on Graflex makes more sense (looks more like it).

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The letter calls the company’s newest laser “a highly dangerous product with the potential to cause blindness, burns and other damage to people and/or property.”

It’s a 5W laser. It can permanently blind someone at a mile if it hits their eyes for more than a quarter of a second. I’m pretty sure looking at the dot it makes on a matte wall at a few feet will blind you. It burns skin instantly.

It *is* dangerous. I can’t wait for the reports of tons of kids with $200 going blind, or blinding drivers on the highway.

PS- I really want one, but would probably blind myself.

Yakko Warner says:

Same story, different actors

ThinkGeek and the National Pork Board, where “The Other White Meat” was only used in links *to* ThinkGeek’s “Unicorn Meat”, not on their actual (fictional) product page itself.

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100621/0934489897.shtml

The only difference there is, the sue-er has the real product, and the sue-ee has the fake one…

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Lucas Does Have A Valid Point, Even If It Is Not Intellectual Property

I think there’s something to be said for George Lucas’s position. I would agree with The Infamous Joe (#31) about these being actually dangerous objects, though I find the laser to listed as 1 watt instead of 5 watts (not a very great difference, comparable, say, to the difference between 22-cal-long-rifle and 9-mm-parabellum rounds).

The kind of laser one uses in a laboratory comes in a more or less rectangular metal box, for the obvious good reason that you can set it on the bench, and it will stay there, instead of rolling away. Likewise, such a laser is likely to have threaded screwholes, mounting flanges, etc., so that one can conveniently build it into an apparatus by more precise methods than simply taping it down. This Pro Arctic Laser would appear to be manifestly packaged as a toy, with lots of nonfunctional decor. It doesn’t have any sighting mechanism. It is obviously intended to be waved around wildly. This laser would appear to be rated at a watt, in the same range as the most advanced disk burners, but it is not encased in a protective housing. It would appear to fall into safety class IV, the most dangerous class, and in fact, the manufacturer admits as much. By comparison, a laser pointer is only rated at a milliwatt or less.

The laser is advertised in the following terms, on the manufacturer’s website, “this laser possesses the most burning capabilities of any portable laser in existence. That’s why it’s also the most dangerous laser ever created… *Supplies are extremely limited as voluntary and regulatory restrictions increase the difficulty to purchase Class IV portable lasers.” In other words, the makers of the underlying laser device try to restrict sales to legitimate users, such as the makers of disk drives and optical cable modems. The web page has the split personality of a cigarette advertisement, one part, “real cooool,” and the other part, “… the Surgeon General warns…”

Toy guns are made in bright plastic colors so that they won’t be mistaken for the real thing, and children carrying them will not get shot by mistake, in what one might call “mistaken self-defense.” If Glock began manufacturing automatic pistols designed to look like toys, I am sure that Mattel and Hasbro would get very upset. George Lucas’s complaint does not exactly resolve to copyright or trademark, but that does not mean it is not legitimate. Presumably Lucas’s proper recourse would be to lobby for suitable consumer product safety standards for Class IV lasers, ie. a rectangular package capable of being bolted down, etc. If toy Lightsabers cannot instantly be distinguished from dangerous weapons, then Lightsabers will have to be banned.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser
http://www.wickedlasers.com/lasers/Spyder_III_Pro_Arctic_Series-96-37.html

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Lucas Does Have A Valid Point, Even If It Is Not Intellectual Property

I find the laser to listed as 1 watt instead of 5 watts (not a very great difference

The latter is five times as powerful! To put it in gun terms, an equivlant change would be a 5 gram slug compared to a 25 gram slug at the same muzzle velocity. If I had to get hit by one, I know which I’d pick. But that’s all relatively off topic anyway.

Presumably Lucas’s proper recourse would be to lobby for suitable consumer product safety standards for Class IV lasers, ie. a rectangular package capable of being bolted down, etc.

What if there is a legitimate use for a portable handheld class IV laser?

If toy Lightsabers cannot instantly be distinguished from dangerous weapons, then Lightsabers will have to be banned.

Are realistic toy guns illegal? I could not find any evidence that they are.

Andrew D. Todd (user link) says:

Lucas Does Have A Valid Point, Even If It Is Not Intellectual Property

Regulation of Realistic Toy Guns:

Here are some sources. I gather the Consumer Product Safety Commisions got a number of major manufacturers and retailers to drop realistic toy guns back in 1994, mostly by “jawboning.” Firms like Toys’R Us don’t really want to push back against this kind of regulation. It’s not really very difficult to comply with, given time, and people buying toys for children are likely to see the logic.

http://airsoftgun.blogspot.com/2007/06/increasingly-realistic-toy-airsoft-guns.html

a proposed federal law died in committee in 2007:

http://www.therpf.com/f9/us-ban-replica-toy-firearms-28031/

But in New York, they have gone further:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/pdf/govpub/838toyguns.pdf

Bob says:

This is pretty open and shut. George Lucas never created a lightsaber. You could say that he created the idea for a lightsaber, but if he had a patent then it would have ran out over a decade ago, so anybody can make toys like this if they wanted to. He might own the trademark on “lightsaber” but this company isn’t even calling it a lightsaber.

If you make a device that resembles a lightsaber, then people will compare your device to lightsabers, just like people compare Coke and Pepsi, generic tissue with Kleenex, and Wal-Mart brand mouth wash with Listerine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Everyone keeps tossing the topic around of does it or does it not look like a light saber, and basing judgment on that concept alone.

The real core of this argument shouldn’t be about how quantitatively it looks like a light saber, but on how much right Lucas’ copyright has.

My opinion is that, no, Lucas doesn’t have a case here. You can’t copyright an entire design concept or style. It would be like implying that one person holds a copyright on all that encompasses the Steampunk style.

The laser is obviously designed to follow a Science Fiction stylization, but Lucas doesn’t have a copyright that he can enforce on any science fiction looking hand held device.

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