The New York Jedi, a group teaching and performing lightsaber choreography in New York City for over ten years, has begun a battle with a real-world empire against greater odds than the Rebel Alliance ever faced. This group, along with a similar group called Lightsaber Academy and several other ventures by owner Michael Brown, has found itself in the crosshairs of Lucasfilm Ltd. lawyers for infringing upon Lucasfilm trademarks, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
According to the official complaint, Lucasfilm served Brown several cease and desist notices. The day after the final notice, Brown filed a trademark on a logo for Lightsaber Academy that Lucasfilm is claiming infringes upon their Jedi Order logo.
Brown, who also owns Thrills and Skills, an entertainment company which promotes New York Jedi, Lightsaber Academy, and other allegedly infringing programs on its website, is being sued for up to $2 million for each infringement. Naturally, many Star Wars diehards are nervous about what this sort of precedent could set for a community largely driven by fan-organized clubs.
Fortunately, these groups do not seem to be in any danger. The 501st Legion and the Rebel Legion, the two largest Star Wars costuming organizations, each with several thousand members worldwide, do not charge for their appearances, which are generally at charity events. Conversely, the New York Jedi website states that most classes are $10 to attend, while offering private lessons and appearances for an unspecified fee. The Rebel Legion and the 501st Legion do use Lucasfilm trademarks in their logos, but their websites at www.rebellegion.com and www.501st.com both state that these are used under authorization, and the Legions do not register or claim any trademarks of their own. Lucasfilm regularly uses these fans for promotional character events, and both clubs even made annual appearances in Disney’s Star Wars Weekends motorcades at Walt Disney World prior to the event’s cancellation last year. When a sports team, major or minor league, hosts a Star Wars night and requests characters, Lucasfilm extends an open invite to the Rebel Legion, 501st Legion, and other clubs including the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club and The Dark Empire, further illustrating their good will towards fan organizations.
There are even groups specifically dedicated to lightsaber performance, such as Saber Guild, which choreograph, teach, and perform lightsaber stage combat much like the New York Jedi. However, the main Saber Guild website bears a disclaimer almost identical to those of the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion, affirming that the group is not used for profit in any way, again differing from the organizations cited in the complaint by Lucasfilm.
There are countless smaller Star Wars-themed costuming and performance groups that operate much the same way. Lucasfilm has always supported fan clubs, fan films, fan fiction, and other such displays of fandom so long as they are not used for profit. While Paramount does its best to crush Star Trek fan films, Lucasfilm hosts an annual competition for the community’s budding J.J.s and Georges.
Disney, Lucasfilm’s parent company, may be notorious in its pursuit of infringement, but Lucasfilm’s hand is somewhat forced, if you’ll pardon the pun. Other fan groups preemptively seek permission to use Lucasfilm trademarks and do so for fun, charity, and other expressly not-for-profit activities. The owner of the groups in question in this lawsuit ignored cease and desist letters and used Lucasfilm trademarks for profit. Now, Lucasfilm must protect their trademark on the terms “Jedi” and “lightsaber”, but this certainly does not spell doom for the many fan groups operating under their good graces. So long as Star Wars fans stay within the bounds set by Lucasfilm, which are relatively generous compared to Paramount and others, they can continue to safely celebrate the Force as they see fit without running afoul of Darth Litigious.