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Almost every year, millions wait in anticipation to hear about what new products will be announced during Apple's scheduled launch events. Weeks and days before, the press publishes photos obtained from secret sources of what they claim will be revealed during the event. Most of the "leaks" turn out to be made up fake rendered CAD models. A few, however, are good enough to fool many into believing it came from Apple's industrial design group.

Consider, for instance, Apple likes one of the fake designs so much, it secretly appropriates it for an upcoming product. Let's say they go even further and legally claim it as their own design.

Does the original designer of the fake have a legal claim to their own work, especially after falsely purporting it belonged to Apple? Moreover, could Apple subpoena the publication the fake appeared in to testify against the designer's claim? What about the protection of the press? If the designer loses in court, could Apple turn around press charges against them for theft? Could the publication sue the designer for selling them a fake story?

In summary, would it be wise for the designer to seek a claim on their work even if millions of dollars were at stake?

2 Answers 2

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Yes, the original designer (or the designer's employer) would have a legal right to the design, insofar as it included protectable design elements. Copyright on the design of "useful" products is limited, and the exact limitations vary from country to country.

However, it might be hard for the designer (or the company for which the designer works) to prove that the creation was original, and was not an actual leak. But if the designer or company has retained sufficient evidence to convince a court, then a suit could be successful. Such a possibility makes me doubt that Apple or a similar large company would do that. The risks are too great when a design of their own creation would probably be quite good enough for their purposes. But that is all speculation.

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  • But if the designer originally claimed it belonged to Apple, wouldn't it be an implied transfer of rights regardless of wether they are the original authors or not?
    – ATL_DEV
    May 8, 2021 at 14:29
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    @ATL_DEV no, it would not. Any transfer of rights needs to be expressly in writing, as in "Hereby I transfer my rights in X to Y"
    – Trish
    May 8, 2021 at 14:35
  • What would legally constitute a transfer of rights?
    – ATL_DEV
    May 8, 2021 at 14:37
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    @ATL 17 USC 204 says: "a) A transfer of copyright ownership, other than by operation of law, is not valid unless an instrument of conveyance, or a note or memorandum of the transfer, is in writing and signed by the owner of the rights conveyed or such owner’s duly authorized agent." However, a license, as opposed to a transfer of ownership, need not be in writing under US law A transfer could be of any of the individual rights under 17 USC 201 or the similar law of another country. May 8, 2021 at 15:51
  • Warning: A “wether” is a large male pig. And your spelling checker won’t warn you because it’s a correct word.
    – gnasher729
    May 8, 2021 at 16:54
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If the third party designer lies about who designed it, that doesn’t change who the copyright owner is. The only difference it makes: if I had a contract with Apple that allows me to use all their designs, and I used yours because you lied, you’d have a problem getting damages for me.

If Apple took and used that design, you could take them to court. Your lawyer would ask Apple which of their designers created the design, and they wouldn’t be able to answer that. So they would lose the case. Not going to happen obviously.

If you had a company willing to lie in court, and designers willing to lie in court, it would be different. But those would be significant crimes.

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  • This type of thing is more likely protectable with a design patent. May 8, 2021 at 18:26
  • Hmm. So if one of Apple's designers really likes the design, he or she could claim it.
    – ATL_DEV
    May 10, 2021 at 5:20
  • @GeorgeWhite Doesn't the third party have to apply for a design patent beforehand to make a claim? Obviously, they wouldn't want to do this if they intend to lie about it/
    – ATL_DEV
    May 10, 2021 at 5:25
  • @ATL_DEV Your scenario seems extremely unrealistic to me whether by copyright or design patent. May 10, 2021 at 23:02

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