Star Wars Episode IV - A New Hope Stolen Death Star Plans

Rebel Spies have stolen the death star plans

The second paragraph of the opening crawl detailing what we now know is the plot for Rogue One references that rebel spies have “stolen secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR”.  Excluding the obvious criminal issues, here are some civil legal issues giving rise to damages on the Empire’s behalf should they want to try to litigate against the rebellion to recover money …. maybe even bankrupt the rebellion.


Conversion is the civil law form of theft.  Under Indiana law, when a person steals something of value from you it gives rise not only to criminal penalties by civil damages.  The Rebellion may be legally responsible for the acts of the rebel spies as the event appears to have been sanctioned by the Rebellion or at least we now know the Rebellion jumped on board with the plot having watched Rogue One.  Remedies from conversion, civil theft, include actual damages (i.e. the value of the thing taken if it cannot be returned) a possible injunction requiring return of the item stolen if still possible, treble damages (i.e. three times the value of the item taken) and recovery of attorney fees.  Punitive damages might also be available to deter others from converting, stealing, another’s property in an amount that would persuade the general public and the person committing the conversion from doing something similar in the future.

Intellectual Property Violations:

Toward the end of Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope, everyone in the Rebellion base is offered a peak at the plans as Rebellion leaders show the structure of the Death Star so as to blow it up.  Displaying the plans, even when not for profit, without permission may violate copyright, trademark and patent laws.  Each have different requirements for a claim to arise, but the basic concepts are that the work must be registered or otherwise protected content and not generally available for public dissemination.  If this is the case, the value that the Empire might have expected to receive if it had been part of the dissemination can be recovered.  So, if displaying the Death Star plans was worth $30 a person viewing them, and 300 people viewed them, the Rebellion owes $9,000 in damages, plus attorney fees and possible punitive damages.

With that said, the Rebellion might have a complete defense to the intellectual property violations.  Fair Use would allow the Rebellion to use the materials and disseminate these materials.  In order for the use to be fair, a Court will consider whether the use was commercial or non-commercial in nature or for the following:

  • Criticism and comment — for example, quoting or excerpting a work in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment.
  • News reporting — for example, summarizing an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report.
  • Research and scholarship — for example, quoting a short passage in a scholarly, scientific, or technical work for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations.
  • Nonprofit educational uses — for example, photocopying of limited portions of written works by teachers for classroom use.
  • Parody — that is, a work that ridicules another, usually well-known, work by imitating it in a comic way.


So, in Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope, the Empire may receive an injunction requiring the Rebellion to produce and return the Death Star plans, a court would hold a hearing to determine the value of the Death Star Plans which I presume required Architects, Engineers, Contractor’s among others to develop running in some multiple of $100,000 + to develop.  On the open market, these plans might sell for millions if some entrepreneur were interested in building an ultimate weapon.  So we know the Rebellion has the plans so an injunction is likely going to be issued requiring their return and return of all copies and no further dissemination.  If these plans are conservatively estimated to be worth $10,000,000 then treble damages for these plans would be $30,000,000.  Another $1,000,000 cost might exist from the Empire’s attempts to get return of the Death Star Plans.  Plus, the attorney fee cost incurred by the Empire to get the Judgment would be tacked on and suddenly the theft of these plans could result in a Judgment against the Rebellion  topping $36,000,000.  By itself, this may be enough of a deterrent to this sort of activity, but depending on how well funded the Rebellion really is, the court may delve into the Rebellion’s finances to see if it is super well funded and if so, a punitive damages award of another $36,000,000 would not be shocking.  Steal the Death Star Plans and face not only jail time but a $72,000,000 + Judgment is a pretty strong deterrent to involving and assisting a rogue set of spies in their caper.

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