Can a company use your picture of your custom car to promote their product without permission?
5 attorney answers
I think I disagree with my colleagues, based on what you described. From what you say, it appears your custom car is so unique it is a piece of art and as such would be protected by copyright, just as the Statue of Liberty at New York New York in Las Vegas is protected (and the artist won $3.5 million in a lawsuit from the USPO for inadvertently using it for a postage stamp). You need to have your art registered with the US Copyright office in order to perfect your rights (sue anyone for damages and attorney fees). Talk with an experienced copyright attorney. If you can't afford one, many law schools and charitable organizations offer free legal counsel. Don't let others make money off your hard work and creative expression. I wish you luck.
Peace be with you, and may love guide you.
It doesn't sound like there would be a violation of intellectual property rights unless there was more. It depends on the nature of you customization and what they said. Since it's public, even if it were the proper subject for a design patent, it's too late. Copyright only covers what could generally be considered "art." If done under the current copyright law, maybe the Oscar Mayer Wiener Wagon or I think there was a chicken place with chicken sculptures. Trademark only comes in if you were selling a recognized design. False advertising could occur if they said you use their parts. Right of publicity if they used your name or likeness. There was at least one publicity case involving race car driver identifiable by the marking on the car.
This answer is written to explain situations which may come up involving intellectual property law issues. It does not give specific legal advice about specific fact situations. If you have a specific fact situation in mind you should ask for professional legal advice about the relevant facts. Seemingly minor changes in facts may change a legal opinion dramatically. Space here does not permit an explanation of all the variables in complex legal areas. Dave Brezina is an Illinois lawyer and his profession is regulated under the authority of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Although he represents clients nationally and internationally, his law practice is performed in Illinois and is not subject to regulation by other states. Dave Brezina is also a Registered Patent Attorney and a patent practice is regulated by the US Patent and Trademark Office a Federal agency and is not subject to regulation by the states. The firm, Ladas & Parry, LLP, has attorneys admitted and offices in at least Illinois, New York and California. Finally, do not post confidential information. There is not an attorney client relationship created simply by correspondence or communication with the author of this site.
If your car was in public when they took the photos of this piece of property, then the photographer (or their employer) is the owner of the photos and the copyrights in those photos and can used them however they'd like, including to promote their own business.
If YOUR photo(s) were used, then you do have a claim for copyright infringement of any infringed photos. In order for you to sue, your photo(s) must be registered for copyright.
Your unique car, as the subject of the photos, has no "publicity" rights. You have no rights as the owner/designer/builder of the car UNLESS your name as owner/designer/builder is used without your consent. If your name and nothing identifiable about you are used, you have no publicity rights claim.
To discuss a copyright infringement claim, see your own copyright litigator.
Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.
It's possible that in some cases you might be able to prove out some kind of unfair competition claim, but this might be a stretch here. An object does not have publicity and privacy rights like a person does. And if the photo was taken from a public place then there is really nothing that prevents them from using the photo.
If this is a serious concern for you, I suggest that you consult with a lawyer in private and discuss your objectives in more detail. You can start by calling around to several for a free phone consultation, get some insights then pick the best fit to work with.
DISCLAIMER: this is not intended to be specific legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. No attorney-client relationship is formed with the law firm of Natoli-Legal, LLC on the basis of this posting.
Generally, it is possible for a three dimensional design to be protected by copyright.
In order to sue for copyright infringement in a U.S. District Court, based on U.S. work created today, one needs to obtain a copyright registration.
You should discuss with an intellectual property attorney in a private consultation.
Legal Disclaimer- the information provided herein is not legal advice. Transmission of this information is not intended to create, and receipt by you does not constitute, an attorney / client relationship. Although effort has been made to ensure that the answers are correct, Law Office of Walter Tencza Jr. cannot and does not offer any warranty, express or implied that the answers contained are accurate statements of law. This document is provided for informational purposes only. Viewers must not act upon any information without first seeking advice from a qualified attorney outside the context of this document.