The appeal concerned intellectual property (IP) rights in the Imperial Stormtrooper helmet made for use in the first Star Wars film, Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope. The Claimant, Lucasfilm, engaged the Defendant, Andrew Ainsworth, to make Stormtrooper helmets based on drawings and a clay model supplied to him and conceived by Lucasfilm.
In 2004 Mr Ainsworth made replicas of the Stormtrooper helmet for sale to the public in the USA. Lucasfilm obtained a judgment from the US courts against him to the value of $10 million for copyright and trade mark infringement. Proceedings were also commenced in the English High Court involving claims for infringement of English copyright, enforcement of the US judgment, and claims for US copyright infringement.
At first instance and in the Court of Appeal, the English courts found that under English law no copyright subsisted in the replica helmet, it being a utilitarian item (a film prop) and not a sculpture that would attract full copyright protection.
The Court of Appeal overturned the earlier High Court’s decision that the alleged US copyright infringement could be determined by the English court. The Court of Appeal held that the English court did not have judicial authority, based on long-standing common law rules fundamentally established in British South Africa Co v Companhia de Moçambique (the Moçambique rule) that the English court “has no jurisdiction to entertain an action for … the determination of title to, or the right to possession of, any immovable situate out of England … or recovery of damages for trespass to such immovable”.