To make a case for copyright infringement, a plaintiff must show that (1) it owns a valid copyright, and (2) the defendant copied constituent elements of a work that are original to the plaintiff. If a plaintiff has obtained a registration certificate from the U.S. Copyright Office, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit presumes that the plaintiff holds a valid copyright. 17 U.S.C.S. § 410(c). However, a defendant can overcome this presumption by presenting evidence and legal argument sufficient to establish that the work in question was not entitled to copyright protection. Where a case alleging copyright infringement comes to the court of appeals on a plaintiff's appeal from a district court's order granting a defendant's motion for summary judgment, the court reviews the question of whether the plaintiff holds a valid copyright de novo and will affirm the district court's judgment only if, viewing all of the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, it is able to conclude that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. (Toyota) hired Grace & Wild, Inc. (G&W) to help it develop an advertising campaign for new car models, and G&W hired Meshwerks, Inc. (Meshwerks) to produce digitized representations of the models. Meshwerks did that by collecting data points for each model, mapping those data points onto a computerized grid, and using modeling software to create a wire frame of each vehicle. Meshwerks obtained copyrights from the U.S. Copyright Office on its wire frames, and it sued Toyota, Toyota's advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi (Saatchi), and G&W for copyright infringement, alleging that defendants used the digitized representations it created in a manner that was not permitted by the parties' contracts.
Did Meshwerks hold copyright in the digital models it created?
The Court of Appeals found that Meshwerks did not have a valid copyright in the digitized models it created. Those models were created using designs the automobile manufacturer produced, so they were not original works of art that could be copyrighted, and because there was no valid copyright, there could be no infringement.