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If you want to make a video game that contains real world products, you generally need to obtain permission from the company that makes that product to include it in your game.

For example, if you want to include real world cars in your racing video game, you need permission from whoever manufactures it.

In contrast, if you're writing a news article, you can use images of that car without having to talk with the manufacturer.

If I took hundreds of pictures of a car from every angle and stitched them all together with some software, I could make some kind of pseudo 3D experience where I can view the car from any angle I want (kind of like how Google Maps Street View works - they stitch together a lot of 2D images to create a pseudo 3D experience).

I think stitching those hundreds of pictures together is legal without permission (why wouldn't it be?) so my question is: what is the difference between including the model in the game or just having that pseudo 3D experience? What is the defining line that says one requires permission while the other doesn't?

(Ultimately my goal is to write a program which allows you to see what different paint jobs would look like on real cars. My concern is whether this would be more like the video game, and so require permission from the manufacturer, or if it's more like the news article, and so it doesn't.)

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The difference is the name, specifically in how it is used.

The name and branding of a car is protected by trademark. Ford Motor Company, for example, has tradmarks on "Ford", the familiar oval logo, etc.

In your news example, the author is engaging in nominative use: they're using the protected marks to refer to a product produced by Ford Motor Company -- exactly the sort of thing that trademark was intended to do.

In your 3D model example, however, you are using the protected marks to imply that the 3D model is associated with Ford -- that Ford Motor Company produced the model, or endorsed your use of it, or the like. If you just make a car shaped like a Mustang, while avoiding any of the tradmarked attributes, you'd be in the clear.

  • Just to clarify for myself: he'd be in the clear provided he didn't hold out his model as being representative of the Ford Mustang, correct? Your point is that having a model that's incidentally based on that isn't infringement. Am I missing anything? – Patrick87 Apr 6 '16 at 16:04
  • @Patrick87, I believe that's correct. – Mark Apr 6 '16 at 18:04
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Ford have a "design patent" on the Mustang's shape.

Copyright law can also be applied to automobile shapes that are original and not purely functional, according to MetroCorpCounsel.com

Ford might object to the possibility of unuthorized use for profit of their intellectual property.

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