William Patry presents the recent opinion from District of Utah, Meshwerks, Inc v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc—a case in which Meshwerks, hired to make computerized and animated 3D models Toyota cars for an ad campaign, sued the company for copyright infringement when the models were used without his consent. Meshwerks describes his models as a work of “the graphic sculptor” using new graphic technology. The process is not just mechanical, but creative as well; it requires the designer to sketch, from scratch, the 2D picture of a 3D object using the computer as a tool, like a brush for a painter. Therefore, he argues that no two models will ever be alike, for ultimately every design is a unique creation. In defense, Toyota argued that digital models are not entitled to copyright protection, because the purpose of the graphic tool is to create an exact replica and inherently lacks originality. The court declared “lack of a creative recasting of the Toyota vehicles” through its digital medium and therefore Mershwerk’s models are not protected under copyright law.
Patry, however, argues that the Court has failed to evaluate the case on the heart of matter, the issue of originality, but instead focused forming its opinion on technical process in which the models were produced. Patry argues that since Bleinstein v. Donaldson, “purpose is irrelevant,” or the intent in which the work is created: the only question in matter is whether original contribution exists or not in its final outcome. Patry argues that the fact that both the court and the defendant recognized that skill, technical know-how, and the creative process that is born from this technology in the creation of models should have been sufficient to grant Meshwerk’s models copyright protection; a creative input, also called original input, is required in creating the model. Patry uses past decisions on copyright protections of photography, particularly of SHL Imaging, Inc. v. Artisan House, Inc. to mirror the inconsistency of this decision with which Supreme Court has stated: “To be sure, the requisite level of creativity is extremely low, even a slight amount will suffice.” The determination of copyright protection with photography has been made completely on original input, judged by its aesthetic quality. Camera is also a medium that creates exact replicas of life in 2D, but the court has focused on “artistic choices” made by the photographer. Patry pinpoints that in this particular decision, the court focuses on the purpose of creating the models and since the digital technology attempts to create a real-life picture of the car, it lacks the “creative recasting,” ignoring the creative input required to create the model in the process.
This entry forthright demonstrates the inconsistency that the loosely written and interpreted copyright law in the court. It allows room to argue that perhaps aesthetic qualities are too abstract to be good basis for determining copyright qualification.