Here is a fascinating 2008 case, Meshwerks v. Toyota ( you can access at http://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/06/06-4222.pdf). Meshwerks is really about the first case dealing with digital modeling and helps us see how courts are basically going to interpret a lot of 3d issues.. or missinterpret for that matter.
In Meshwerks, the plaintiff company was hired to make digital models of Toyota cars — base layers for computerized substitutes for advertisements. They deliberately did not include anything new.. just tried to completely emulate the Toyota cars for use in Toyota advertising. The court talks about recognizing the painstaking work of creating a model.. recognizing that the transfer from 2d to 3d requires some artistic effort and reworking… but.. hard work does not copyrightable material make.
So, Meshwerks made the models and contracted for Toyota and the ad agency to use the models in a commerical and surprise… Toyota thought that they could use the models in any future ads, while Meshwerks said that any other use was a misappropriation of its intellectual property and flopped down a copy of its wire frame copyright registration to prove it.
Toyota countered by asserting and winning on the point that the wireframes lacked sufficient originality to be protected by copyright. No valid copyright means no valid infringement claim.
And the horror of this case is this.. the opinion shows us how courts are going to think about 3d models.. they are going to think of them as analagous to .. photographs.
Is that good or bad? Well, depends on what you do in the virtual world… if you rip off other people’s poses.. it is excellent news.