The force was with him!

By Razib Khan | July 27, 2011 10:58 am

In my post below where I focused on patent law it was noted that even more obviously blatant abuses of the spirit of intellectual property occur in copyright. So I was interested to see that George Lucas has lost a law suit in the United Kingdom in relation to the idea of “storm troopers”:

Nevertheless, the High Court rejected the multi-billionaire director’s claim and 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, meaning it would have expired and Mr Ainsworth would be free to sell them.

The High Court and Court of Appeal found in Mr Ainsworth’s favour, and despite Lucas being backed by directors Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Peter Jackson, the Supreme Court has now followed suit.

Someone on twitter quipped that Lucas should be paying royalties to the Germans for the idea of stormtroopers. But I immediately recalled that many of the ideas which set the frame for the Star Wars series are actually lifted whole cloth from pre-World War II pulp science fiction. In particular the ideas of E. E. Smith and his Lensman series.

  • kirk

    The fact that you want this blog to be linked to other blogs to up your page-rank and not your ‘cut’ from every reader is empirical evidence that copyrights and patents are finished. Two or three passes through Bayesian inference and this hypothesis sinks the Titanic of unsinkable copyrights and the Bismark of unsinkable patents.

  • russell1200

    Storm troopers were selected troops pulled from the ranks of the German Army and using infiltration tactics to slither there way through and around defensive hardpoints in Ailed lines during World War One. They tended to like short hurricane bombardments to maintain surprise, working there way forward through weak points (creating a flank if you will), and then broadening the shoulders of any rupture. They would have used the coal scuttle helmet style better known today from World War Two. With the introduction of tanks and (possibly more importantly) radios it was the basis for their World War 2 successes.

    The tactics were developed in 1917, but the large German offensive of 1918 took the Allies to the brink of collapse (again). The writers of the 1920s era of science fiction would likely have had a passing familiarity with storm troopers. They would not have had the Nazi association, but Imperial Germany was often though of as aggressive imperialists – at a time when we often were very suspicious of European imperialists.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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