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Court to Lucas: 'Star Wars' costumes aren't art

The Star Wars creator loses a case in a British court against the original designer of the Stormtrooper costumes, who has been selling replicas online.

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but art, it seems, is whatever a court says it is.

The folks at Lucasfilm, creators of the "Star Wars" franchise, took the designer of the original Stormtrooper costume to court in the UK and had their light sabers thrust right back at them.

According to London's Times, Andrew Ainsworth, the man who originally created the helmets and armor for the first "Star Wars" movie, decided to capitalize on his design by selling replicas made from the original mold online.

Lucasfilm clearly thought Ainsworth's view of copyright was from a very strange planet. So, after taking him to court and winning in the US in 2006, it thought it would strike a further victory in British courts.

However, Britain can often show itself to be a constellation like no other.

So perhaps one should not be entirely surprised that Mr. Justice Mann and, subsequently, three more justices in the Court of Appeal, decided that Stormtrooper uniforms are not art, but mere industrial design. You see, art enjoys British copyright protection for 70 years. But industrial design is only worth 15 years of protection.

But is it art? CC Andrew Rueda/Flickr

Lucasfilm promises it will now send its legal Stormtroopers all the way to the British Supreme Court. The company told the Times: "The judges in the case dismissed the creative efforts of film designers and prop makers in general, saying that props are the work of people who 'did not make it as artists' and not fine art that should be valued under the law."

Ainsworth was, at the time of the costumes' creation, an industrial designer. This is what he told the Times of his design: "I didn't even know it was for a film to begin with." At the time the costumes were made, the machine Ainsworth used was, he told the Times, "churning out kayaks and watersports stuff."

Almost every court case in the world these days seems to be about money rather than art. So it's hard to imagine that these fine judges didn't scratch their rather beautifully designed wigs and feel sympathy for Ainsworth, as he faced the conglomerated Darth Vaders from Northern California.

Surely they had heard that every part of moviemaking is supposed to be art-- even the making of bacon sandwiches on set. So their interpretation is, indeed, an interesting one.

If Britain's Supreme Court doesn't offer Lucasfilm relief, what might the Lucas Army do?

Perhaps it will create a new "Star Wars" movie--entitled "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones II"--in which the bad guys are movie prop makers who attempt to create a parallel universe called Replica World.

In the pulsating finale, The Jedi Master would take on the Prop Master in a weird industrial design facility somewhere west of, um, London. Surely you can hardly wait.