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Stormtrooper helmet sales still legal in Britain

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A British movie prop maker who crafted the Stormtrooper uniform for the original Star Wars movie can continue selling replicas of the costume throughout the galaxy — the US excepted.

George Lucas's production company Lucasfilm sued Andrew Ainsworth over copyright violations for selling Stormtrooper suits and helmets through his London shop and the internet.

Ainsworth sculpted the helmets for the first Star Wars movie in 1977.

London's high court ruled today that although Ainsworth violated a US copyright on galactic fashion, the empire's litigious force does not necessarily extend abroad.

Judge Anthony Mann rejected Lucasfilm's claims under British law, saying English copyright over the outfits had expired.

Mann also refused to enforce a $20m judgment against Ainsworth in a California court in 2006. The judge said US sales, worth about £30,000 ($60,000) were not significant enough to make the prop man susceptible to US jurisdiction. Ainsworth was unable to contest the American case because of a lack of funds. Lucasfilm brought a lawsuit to British courts to enforce the decision.

Ainsworth sells suits and helmets to Star Wars fans for up to £1,800 ($3,600). But some would argue that's a small price to pay to transform any wannabe swoop jockey into an elite shock trooper of the Galactic Empire and extension of the Emperors will, keeping thousands of star systems in check through fear — so long as their mom lets them borrow the Mazda for the evening.

The ruling, however, rejected a counter-claim that Ainsworth held the copyright of the Stormtrooper helmet, and sought a share of the profits from the film. Lucasfilm argued that Lucas had already worked out the look of the Stormtrooper before asking Ainsworth to cast the helmet.

Both sides have declared the ruling a victory. Lucasfilm said today the High Court enforced Ainsworth was liable for making and selling "pirated" Star Wars Stormtrooper kit.

"We do not intend to use this ruling to discourage our fans from expressing their imagination, creativity and passion for Star Wars through the costumes and props they make for their personal use," said Lucasfilm veep Howard Roffman in a statement. "Rather, we see the Court's decision as affirming that those who seek to illegally profit from Star Wars will be brought to task, wherever they may be."

Mann agreed to a further hearing for both sides to challenge his findings at the Court of Appeal. Begun, this merchandise war has. ®

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