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Copyright in the Movies | The Force is strong with this one...

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  • Rothgo
    Champion of the Unbalanced
    • Aug 2006
    • 6645

    Copyright in the Movies | The Force is strong with this one...

    A prop designer who made the original Stormtrooper helmets for Star Wars has won his copyright battle with director George Lucas over his right to sell replicas... the focus switched to design rights, specifically whether the helmets sold were works of art or merely industrial props. If Lucasfilm could convince the courts the 3D works were sculptures, they would be protected by copyright for the life of the author plus 70 years. If not, the copyright protection would be reduced to 15 years from the date they were marketed...
    To summarise: are props "art"?

    And more generally if you like, when should copyright apply and what type of protection? e.g. Is the handwriting of a bloke employed by the council written as a requirement of his council duties owned by the employee or employer or nobody?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12910683
    Last edited by Rothgo; 07-27-2011, 02:35 AM.
  • opaloka
    digital serf 41221z/74
    • Jun 2006
    • 3746

    #2
    I'd think they were 'work for hire' as well?

    Mr. Ainsworth has made it more difficult for other creative people to profit under any circumstances even if they hold the explicit rights to their creation. And honestly, while a few people in the UK might be swayed to buy an 'Ainsworth original' most will go for the Chinese version which is precisely the same but they'll get it for twenty five pounds.

    Comment

    • David Mosley
      Eternal Administrator
      • Jul 2004
      • 11823

      #3
      I don't understand why Lucas didn't use trademark rather than copyright legislation to fight this case. I mean, assuming the SWstormtrooper design is trademarked to Lucasfilm - and I don't have any reason to think it isn't - surely that would have been a stronger position to fight from?

      As it is, on the point of copyright law about whether props were art or not, I suspect the court got it about right; the props were originally created as functional items of apparel, much like a pair of boots, and not as objets d'art in themselves. To be sure, they're highly distinctive 'functional items of apparel', which is why I think Trademark would have been a better fit for Lucas.

      The judgement does appear to blow a huge hole in certain aspects copyright though; the question arising from the ruling I think is, does the ruling only apply to the specific prop makers who crafted the original objects or can anyone rattle off their own Daleks, say?
      _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
      _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
      _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
      _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

      Comment

      • David Mosley
        Eternal Administrator
        • Jul 2004
        • 11823

        #4
        Originally posted by opaloka View Post
        I'd think they were 'work for hire' as well?
        Without a written contract explicitly stating that the work was undertaken on a WfH basis I doubt Lucas had a leg to stand on. I could probably pull out some rulings on comic artwork ownership rights from my days when I researched the whole 'comic creators rights' issue of the late '80s, early '90s to see what US court rulings were made, but bear in mind that Jerry Siegel's estates now owns 50%(?) of the US rights to Superman because (iirc) the US courts ruled that no 'WfH' agreement was made between him and National Periodicals when the character was first published.
        Last edited by David Mosley; 07-27-2011, 04:04 AM.
        _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
        _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
        _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
        _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

        Comment

        • devilchicken
          We'll get to that later
          • Nov 2004
          • 2814

          #5
          George Lucas loses Copyright battle

          Lucas does have a reputation as a money grabber - but I'm not sure that I share the author's view on this. Seems pretty clear to me that the designs that this guy created were created specifically for Lucas' movies, based on concept drawings that he was provided with and so should belong to Lucasfilm.

          It seems strange that Lucas went through the litigation route when it could probably have been dealt with out of court through some sort of licensing agreement. I guess he probably already had a contract with another production company to produce the "official" prop replicas and Ainsworth doing his thing on the site violated their exclusivity.

          Better article here.

          Stormtrooper Designer Defeats Lucas in Court Battle
          It's victory for the little guy as Lucas' case comes up short.

          In an X-wing versus Death Star-sized battle, a prop designer who made the original Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars has won a legal battle against George Lucas, allowing him to continue selling replicas of the costume in the UK.

          Andrew Ainsworth argued that his costumes were functional products instead of artistic works, thus didn't apply to full copyright laws. However, while he may continue to sell in the UK, the court ruled that Lucas' copyright had been violated in the US, preventing him from selling overseas. Ainsworth had already ceased US operations.

          "This is a massive victory, a total victory, we've already got the champagne out," he told the BBC. "Art is like a Rodin sculpture, film production is an industry and that's what these products are, they were always industrial designs.

          "I am proud to report that in the English legal system David can prevail against Goliath if his cause is right. If there is a Force, then it has been with me these past five years."

          The legal battle has been raging since 2004, when Lucasfilm sued for $20m (£12m) in the US. It was taken over to the UK after it was revealed that the designer held no assets in America.

          Ainsworth makes and sells the costumes from his Twickenham studio, the same location he used when designing the original costume back in the '70s. He charges as much as £1,800 for his work.
          http://uk.movies.ign.com/articles/118/1184473p1.html
          Batman: It's a low neighborhood, full of rumpots. They're used to curious sights, which they attribute to alcoholic delusions.

          Robin: Gosh, drink is sure a filthy thing, isn't it? I'd rather be dead than unable to trust my own eyes!

          Comment

          • opaloka
            digital serf 41221z/74
            • Jun 2006
            • 3746

            #6
            Originally posted by David Mosley View Post
            Originally posted by opaloka View Post
            I'd think they were 'work for hire' as well?
            Without a written contract explicitly stating that the work was undertaken on a WfH basis I doubt Lucas had a leg to stand on. I could probably pull out some rulings on comic artwork ownership rights from my days when I researched the whole 'comic creators rights' issue of the late '80s, early '90s to see what US court rulings were made, but bear in mind that Jerry Siegel's estates now owns 50%(?) of the US rights to Superman because (iirc) the US courts ruled that no 'WfH' agreement was made between him and National Periodicals when the character was first published.
            Well I'm certainly not a lawyer, but if the creator here was an independent contractor and not an employee then it seem like you're correct, at least under US law. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire

            I'm guessing from the article though that for Lucasfilm this is the exception rather than the rule and they have contracts or an employer relationship with most of the stuff that got made for the movies. What they seemed to be bemoaning the most was that the mask is categorized in the UK as something other than art, and therefore only has a fifteen year protection. At which point the question of ownership or contract is moot.

            In other words, I think the way this guy won was to say not so much that he owns the designs but that the designs don't belong to anyone, they are not art, just product.
            Last edited by opaloka; 07-27-2011, 11:04 AM.

            Comment

            • Lucid Sirius
              Jester, ret.
              • Mar 2009
              • 465

              #7
              It's a matter of legend in the business in California how silly the Star Wars contracts were, in that they assigned absolutely everything to Lucas in very broad terms. No one really guessed how much money it would all turn into, sort of like the contracts for the actors on the original Star Trek series.

              It has amazed a lot of people 'round these parts that anyone got anything out of the Lucas empire.

              I do love part of the official response from Lucas' people:

              Lucasfilm remains committed to aggressively protecting its intellectual property rights relating to Star Wars in the UK and around the globe through any and all means available to it, including copyright, trademark, design patents and other protections afforded by law.
              "Any and all means," eh? Wonder if that includes assassination, kidnapping and/or extraordinary rendition to the ice world of Hoth?

              "When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."
              - Mark Twain, notebook entry, 1898.

              Comment

              • Kevin McCabe
                Citizen of Tanelorn
                • Jun 2007
                • 6112

                #8
                And, it's not like he didn't rip off L. Frank Baum in the first place.
                Kevin McCabe
                The future is there, looking back at us. Trying to make sense of the fiction we will have become. William Gibson

                Comment

                • opaloka
                  digital serf 41221z/74
                  • Jun 2006
                  • 3746

                  #9
                  I haven't read much about that. My impression was, at least for the original film, the movie deal was skewed so much in favor of Fox that all Lucas could get were the toy rights - and he pushed that for all it was worth. I imagine the actor's contracts assigned their character's likenesses to Lucas, which I've also read was standard for stuff where there were going to be toys, like the 'six million dollar man' and the Irwin Allen TV stuff.

                  As far as this case is concerned, I'm almost always on the side of the creators, but this is a freaking prop. It's obviously part of the movie. Ainsley didn't even design it, he just made it off of a painting. He didn't win the case by saying he had the right to the prop, he did it by saying that no one had rights to any props after fifteen years, which is horrible for people in his profession who did manage to negotiate some rights to their creations. What a wanker.
                  Last edited by opaloka; 07-31-2011, 05:22 AM.

                  Comment

                  • David Mosley
                    Eternal Administrator
                    • Jul 2004
                    • 11823

                    #10
                    Originally posted by opaloka View Post
                    I haven't read much about that. My impression was, at least for the original film, the movie deal was skewed so much in favor of Fox that all Lucas could get were the toy rights - and he pushed that for all it was worth. I imagine the actor's contracts assigned their character's likenesses to Lucas, which I've also read was standard for stuff where there were going to be toys, like the 'six million dollar man' and the Irwin Allen TV stuff.
                    I believe - and this is only based on things I read at the time or soon afterwards - that Fox didn't want the merchandising rights to Star Wars because they - like most studios - didn't believe there was any money to be made from merchandising. According to this:
                    "When Lucas negotiated his deal with Fox to make Star Wars, the studio was shocked to learn that the red hot director was not asking for a lot of money. Instead, Lucas wanted control. He wanted to have the right to the final cut of the film, 40% of the net box-office gross, all rights to future sequels and ownership of all the merchandising rights associated with Star Wars. In the 1970's, science fiction films were not very profitable. Hence, Fox thought they were ripping Lucas off. Sequel and merchandise rights to science fiction films were worthless at the time. In the end, this deal would eventually make Lucas a multi billionaire and cost Fox an untold fortune in lost revenues."
                    And to be fair to Fox, no film had been as successful or as merchandised to the hilt before in movie history as Star Wars was. I think I'm right in saying that Alec Guinness (shrewdly?) asked for 0.05% of the gross profits rather than taking his normal fee (Lucas couldn't have afforded him otherwise) and as a result never needed to work again (though obviously he did). He also hated Star Wars. The story goes that one young fan on meeting Sir Alec told him he had seen Star Wars fifty (or 100) times, to which Guinness replied, "I want you to promise me something. Promise me that you will never, ever watch it again."

                    With regards to Andrew Ainsworth, it's worth pointing out that his victory only applies to the UK not to the rest of the world.
                    Last edited by David Mosley; 07-31-2011, 08:19 AM.
                    _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
                    _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
                    _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
                    _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

                    Comment

                    • opaloka
                      digital serf 41221z/74
                      • Jun 2006
                      • 3746

                      #11
                      Originally posted by David Mosley View Post
                      to which Guinness replied, "I want you to promise me something. Promise me that you will never, ever watch it again." .
                      lol

                      I was right at the perfect age for SW I think, I was six, all the kids would meet at school and compare how many times they'd seen it that week. Kids had birthday parties at the thing - and not just a few, a bunch of kids. Whatever people feel about Lucas (and it's fashionable to knock him) he made a phenomenon that can't be dupicated.

                      Originally posted by David Mosley View Post
                      With regards to Andrew Ainsworth, it's worth pointing out that his victory only applies to the UK not to the rest of the world.
                      In general the UK is good about protecting creative rights but this is a big loophole. Think about all the designs that are so much a part of pop culture. I wonder how this affects some of the artists that do get residuals from their designs, or keep some or all of the rights. I think HR Giger might fall into that category?
                      Last edited by opaloka; 07-31-2011, 08:28 AM.

                      Comment

                      • opaloka
                        digital serf 41221z/74
                        • Jun 2006
                        • 3746

                        #12
                        I mean, in the theater, when Indiana Jones shot the guy with the scimitar on the bridge, the entire audience (and it was packed) STOOD UP and cheered like at a baseball game. I've never seen that before or since. Lucas had a hat trick with Graffitti, SW, and Raiders, and I guess people wanted it to keep going. But ni matter what Lucas did or didn't do, he was always going to be the guy who made Star Wars. Speilberg went on to make some really dramatic movies but he wasn't burdened with that kind of legacy.

                        And THX is nothing to sneeze at as a film.

                        Comment

                        • Lucid Sirius
                          Jester, ret.
                          • Mar 2009
                          • 465

                          #13
                          The quote from David seems right to me, and explains why the prop legalities were tied up from the beginning. It was about that control and positioning for future projects and what happened after the premiere that set the foundation for agreements. And of course when the first movie became an industry in an of itself, it had enough money to enforce contracts no sane person would enter into. But dangle the possibility of that much money in front of someone and they will often sign up.

                          That being said, I can't help but be a fan of Lucas in general, especially Lucas Arts and the incredible technical stuff he's brought to movie making while ensuring the studio control system wasn't the only game in town. THX® Sound in a cinema is a technical marvel and gave Dolby® a swift kick in the ass to innovate. They've both made movies incredibly more fun to hear and see.

                          Also, I'm probably "compromised" as they say in the spy games, but I've been down Lucas Valley to the Lucas Ranch and and Lucas Film had time in the Lucas Arts studios. To say that it's an amazing place is paltry understatement, and what is great to me is that everyone I've met who works there loves their job. Lucas is a good boss these days and I think that says something, despite his worldwide drive to protect the empire, so to speak.

                          "When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."
                          - Mark Twain, notebook entry, 1898.

                          Comment

                          • Lucid Sirius
                            Jester, ret.
                            • Mar 2009
                            • 465

                            #14
                            Originally posted by David Mosley View Post
                            ...The story goes that one young fan on meeting Sir Alec told him he had seen Star Wars fifty (or 100) times, to which Guinness replied, "I want you to promise me something. Promise me that you will never, ever watch it again." ....
                            I've always loved that story. Have you heard Carrie Fisher go on about Lucas? She has some great stuff like "I don't want to say George took advantage of us, but ever time I look in the mirror I have to send him a dollar."

                            "When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained."
                            - Mark Twain, notebook entry, 1898.

                            Comment

                            • Michael Moorcock
                              Site Host
                              • Dec 2003
                              • 14278

                              #15
                              Hmm. Was that really Lucas's best shot ? I always thought that I Jones scene was the point when movies started to sell the same 'win at any price' philosophy we were seeing in big business and politics.
                              I'd still rather cheer for Cooper in High Noon who won by the rules rather than Ford winning by breaking them.
                              Call me a kill-joy. Neither film was realistic, of course, so any argument about what would 'really' happen in that situation won't hold up. For me, a fantasy has to reflect the consequences of an action to be satisfying and the Jones movie essentially said that you could break the rules not only without consequence but that it actually paid you to do it. I might have been the only person in the audience not cheering but I have a feeling I was right to be concerned.

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