The Dimensions of Copyright: Protecting 2-D and 3-D Works

What is the scope of intellectual property protection for two- and three-dimensional articles or images? 

A recent US case (Eliya Inc. v. Kohl’s Department Stores, S.D.N.Y., No. 06 Civ 195 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 13, 2006)) determined that making a three-dimensional object (in this case, a designer shoe), based on a two-dimensional image of that object, did not constitute copyright infringement.  This was the case despite the registration of the two-dimensional image under the Copyright Act.  The court concluded that the scope of protection under copyright law only extended to the reproduction of the 2-D image or drawing of the shoe, not the creation of a functional 3-D shoe which was copied from the 2-D image.  However, the plaintiff also claimed trade dress infringement under the US Lanham Act, and this claim survived.

In another recent US decision (Meshwerks Inc. v. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., D. Utah, No. 2:06 CV 97), the court decided that animated three-dimensional digital images of car designs did not enjoy copyright protection since they lacked the creative spark required for copyright to apply.  In this case Meshwerks was hired by Toyota to create the 3-D digital replicas of cars for use in advertisements.  Meshwerks went so far as to register copyright in their 3-D images and then they turned around and sued Toyota for copyright infringement.  The court denied that the images enjoyed copyright protection since they were merely “product-accurate representation without the introduction of new creative elements.”

In Canada, Pyrrha Design Inc. v. 623735 Saskatchewan Ltd., 2004 FC 423, (2004), 30 C.P.R. (4th) 310 dealt with a claim for infringement based on the defendant’s copying of certain jewellery designs.  The plaintiff sued under copyright.  The defendant argued that the Copyright Act didn’t apply since, because of the exceptions and stipulations under Section 64 of the Act, the jewellery designs were covered by the Industrial Design Act, not the Copyright Act.  The court agreed and since the lawsuit was founded solely on copyright infringement, the claim was dismissed.

The lessons for business?  Several things come to mind:

(1) There may be concurrent protection under both copyright and industrial design.  Determine where you can get the best protection and, if necessary, obtain a registration.  To obtain an industrial design registration, certain conditions need to be satisfied, so ensure that you have reviewed your options in advance.

(2) Where you are entering into an agreement (like the one between Meshwerks and Toyota), ensure that ownership of copyright in the resulting images or designs is clearly dealt with.  Even though Toyota won the case, the lawsuit might have been avoided altogether if the agreement was clear on copyright ownership.

Calgary – 14:28 MST

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