29 July 2011

Two Quick Questions for IP Defenders

AV Club has some exciting news:

In the rare story that ends with George Lucas not getting money, George Lucas has lost a copyright case before the British Supreme Court in which he sought to stop his former Star Wars prop designer Andrew Ainsworth, who came up with the original iconic Stormtrooper helmets, from selling replicas of his most famous work online. Lucas had successfully blocked Ainsworth from doing business in the U.S., arguing that profiting from a decades-old George Lucas creation should be the sole province of George Lucas. However, while the British court recognized that selling the helmets in America would be a copyright violation, according to the judgment there, it ultimately decided that ruling shouldn’t also apply in the U.K., as the props were considered functional, rather than artistic works.

I have two questions, one each for those who defend IP on ethical grounds (i.e. those who claim IP is a natural extension of natural rights) and for those who defend IP on utilitarian grounds (i.e. those who claim that IP is necessary to encourage innovation).

For the former:  How much of the original idea is owned by Lucas and how much is owned by Ainsworth?  (Note: there appears to be no clause in Ainsworth contract indicating that Lucas owned the copyright on the specific appearance of the helmets produced.)  Lucas certainly came up with the concept of stormtroopers and presumably came up with an idea of how their helmets should look, but it was Ainsworth, ultimately, who came up with the specific design and idea of what the helmets would look like.  How do you split natural ownership in this case?

For the latter:  Given that Lucas has a net worth of over $3 billion, is collecting licensing fees from Ainsworth really going to inspire him to be more creative?  Remember, the whole point of IP is to encourage creativity.  Would Lucas really be more creative if he got paid a fee for every Star Wars tie-in?  If not, what modifications should be made to the law to make it less detrimental to consumers?

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