Lucasfilm, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company and the creator and producer of the Star Wars film, has filed a federal lawsuit over intellectual property infringement against the proprietor of the Lightsaber Academy, which describes itself as “a consortium for academic, stage combat, and sport dueling lightsaber instructors” and the New York Jedi, “a community of Cosplayers, martial artists and teachers, who share practical Stage Combat techniques oriented toward Light Sabers.”
The lawsuit allege that the proprietor, Michael Brown, and the company that runs the two enterprises, Thrills and Skills Inc., are infringing on registered trademarks belonging to LucasFilm (namely, “lightsaber” and “Jedi”) as well as engaging in unfair competition, diluting the Star Wars trademarks, and “cybersquatting” by having registered websites using the trademarked words. The lawsuit singles out the Lightsaber Academy’s practice of selling instructor and director certificates which “purport to license others to offer additional ‘Lightsaber’ classes,” as well as Brown’s attempt to register a trademark for “Lightsaber Academy,” which seems like a particularly provocative move from someone whose business relies on intellectual property restrictions not being enforced too strictly.
In addition to the claims of misappropriation of the words lightsaber and Jedi, the lawsuit also claims the logo used by the Lightsaber Academy is an infringement of the Jedi logo created by Lucasfilm:
Attorneys for Lucasfilm also argue in the lawsuit that because of sales and advertising by Lucasflim and the companies licensing the use of their intellectual property as well as “longstanding consumer recognitions,” the trademarks themselves “are widely recognized as source-identifiers of, and for, authorized Lucasfilm products and services.” The argument is specious—it’s hard to imagine a reasonable person assuming a product or service was licensed by Lucasfilm because it has the word lightsaber or Jedi in it, both being words that have entered a cultural lexicon wider than the world of Star Wars. The near universal practice of explicitly identifying licensed merchandise as such would also suggest that most people do not assume merchandise is licensed simply because it is in some way related to a licensable franchise. Global retail sales of officially licensed merchandise rose 4.2 percent in the last year in part on the strength of the new Star Wars film, according to the Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association, as Variety reported when the industry group held their annual licensing expo this summer.
The lawsuit also claims that Brown and the other defendants “repeatedly sought license or authority from Lucasfilm to engage” in their activities, and that they received multiple cease and desist letters from Lucasfilm. The websites for the Lightsaber Academy and the New York Jedi include disclaimers about not being affiliated with Lucasfilm, Star Wars, or Disney. “And while we are not specifically Star Wars-centric, we do rely heavily on many of the principles and training used by that of the Jedi Order,” the “about” page of the New York Jedi website explains. “Mental focus, martial arts training, universal knowledge, and creating your own costume, err… robes.”
The lawsuit was filed Friday in a U.S. district court in San Francisco. The defendants have not yet commented publicly on the suit.
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