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by | May 2, 2024

With the coming of May, people are making plans to celebrate a popular annual event. No, I’m not talking about Mother’s Day, although that’s an awesome day to celebrate, too. I’m thinking of a fairly new holiday that has really taken hold in recent years: Star Wars Day, celebrated on May Fourth, because as the saying goes, “May the Fourth be with you!”

Over the years, there have been some really interesting legal cases surrounding the Star Wars franchise. Many of them centered on copyright infringement, and the franchise’s studio, Lucasfilm, has prevailed in many—but not all!—of those cases. If you’ve never heard of a tech company called JediMind, that’s because it had to change its name after being sued for trademark infringement. And if you wondered why that cool and colorful prop for your Halloween costume was sold as a “saber sword” or a “space saber” instead of a “lightsaber,” it’s because that term is one of many outlined in the copyrights and trademarks owned by Lucasfilm and now its parent company, Disney.

Lucasfilm was not successful, however, in preventing the use of the term “Star Wars” to describe the space-based U.S strategic defense initiative proposed by President Reagan in the mid-80s. The studio attempted, but failed, to ban a television public service ad that used the term to explain how the SDI would work. A court ruled that the use of the term “Star Wars” within the context of an educational, not-for-profit PSA did not constitute a trademark infringement.

Here’s another cool fact about Star Wars and the law: Lucasfilm trademarked the term “droid” in 2008. While it’s true that the term “android” had been around long before director George Lucas was even born, he is credited with coining the shortened version of the word in the original 1977 Star Wars movie. The trademark applies to any kind of device or technology using the term “droid,” including Verizon’s line of mobile phones with that name. Lucasfilm granted Verizon license to use the term, in exchange for a share of the profit on every device sold.

My favorite Star Wars-related legal case, though, didn’t involve Lucasfilms at all. It unfolded right here in Florida and centered on a Hooters restaurant, a determined waitress, and a Star Wars toy.

In April 2001, a manager at the Hooters in Panama City beach announced a sales contest, promising that whichever waitress could sell the most beers in a month would “win a Toyota.” A waitress named Jodee Berry put a lot of extra effort into selling beers, frequently talking with the manager about what model and color she would choose if she won. He reminded her that she would be responsible for paying taxes on the prize if she won. At the end of the month, she was named the winner and in early May, she was blindfolded and led to the parking lot to be given her prize.

However, when the blindfold was removed, Jodee didn’t see a new car. Instead, she was handed a toy Yoda doll. The manager explained that it was an April Fool’s joke and he had been saying “toy Yoda” all along. Jodee, however, was not amused. Instead, she quit the job and sued Hooters’ parent company for breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation. The court found in her favor and she was granted a settlement in an amount never disclosed to the public—but her lawyer revealed that it was more than enough to enable her to buy a Toyota in any model and color of her choice.

Some Star Wars fans say that the toy Yoda would be worth more today than the car, so hopefully Jodee also kept her original prize.

May the force be with you, on May the Fourth and in any galaxy.

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