Other Unsuccessful Legal Challenges by George Lucas

The limits to the filmmaker's 'Star Wars' empire show up in court

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The deal George Lucas struck with Fox in 1977 retaining sequel, TV, and merchandising rights to the Star Wars franchise helped make the filmmaker a billionaire, but all the control in the galaxy couldn't help him win his lawsuit against the original film's prop designer, who was selling replica Stormtrooper helmets. Lucasfilms issued a statement today criticizing the British Supreme Court's ruling, saying it perpetuates an "anomaly of British copyright law under which the creative and highly artistic works made for use in films... may not be entitled to copyright protection in the UK," but his track record with intellectual property lawsuits filed in the United States isn't exactly strong.

In 1985, for instance, he filed suit over the Reagan administration's proposed  Strategic Defense Initiative, quickly nicknamed Star Wars because it involved shooting lasers from space. Except he didn't sue the defense department or anyone in the administration. He sued the lobbying groups on both sides of the issue that ran TV ads that used the words 'Star Wars'. (He did not sue Time, which put the program on the cover in 1983.) U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell refused to grant the director's request for a restraining order banning the ads, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. In his ruling, Gessell observed, "(Lucas) is in the difficult position of objecting because what he has depicted as fantasy may be frightening when depicted as a potential reality."

Lucasfilm again pressed his luck in 2001 by suing the producers of a Star Wars porn parody  (called Starballz, of course) for unauthorized use of the Star Wars brand. That argument was rejected in court. ("The Star Wars films are so famous that it is extremely unlikely that consumers would believe that Starballz is associated with Star Wars or Lucasfilm," wrote Judge Claudia Wilken of the Northern District Court of California in her decision.) After that, the Starballz producers countersued for libel, claiming Lucas defamed them after his spokesman deemed the animated erotica was "pornography directed at children."

He's also threatened--and pulled back on--a lawsuit over a real life lightsaber. The good news for Lucas is that he still has a lawsuit over a 'Jedi Mind' wireless headset to worry about. Maybe this time the force of the legal system will be with him.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.