So I was reading an interesting article on copyright in regards to books.

This got me to thinking what is the impact of copyright in regards to cars? We all have heard about the recent idea that car makes wanted to stop you from working on your car.


What really interest me though is design copyright. When can we all start building our own VW beetles, Model T’s, or other replica cars? Well it’s an interesting bit of legal reading that I as a layman can but try and interpret.

So copyright law varies a lot based on country but let’s just use the good ol’ U.S.A. as our location. So copyright law is a ever evolving thing. As it stands now (as far as I understand again not a lawyer! I just read things) the copyright for industrial design (what cars would fall under) has the same protection as most other copyrighted works I n the United States. The fact that the endeavor maybe a group design has a little more impact on the law post 1978 but not a whole bunch pre 1978. So when the original copyright holder dies the term of copyright is 70 years, unless the term ended with in 28 years after 1978 in which case the term is automatically extended 28 years. So let’s use the Ford model T as an example. Let’s assume that Henry ford was the copyright holder, and that the copyright was never applied for renewal and that ford doesn’t intend the renew a 100+ year copyright on a car’s design. Just to clarify basically the design of the model T is copyright, the name is a trademark and the way it works its patented


Ok got all that? So when can you as “Joe wants-to-build-a-car” I’m sure that was a German name translated start building and selling authentic looking model T cars? Just don’t call them Model T’s cause trademark law, and I don’t even want to get into that can of worms. Well if we take the assumptions above the law says 95 from the date of the publication (selling of a Model T) or 70 years from the death of the copyright holder (Henry Ford).

Model T sold in 1908 so 2003

Henry Ford died in 1947 so 2017

So assuming no one renewed the copyright you have 1 more year to wait to start making your model T’s!


More likely then not they renewed the design patent and currently pre 1978 patents are not searchable online. The renewing of patents is a weird thing, it’s a good section of the law, but basicly add 67 years to the end of the term, so 2084 the copyright on the first mass produced car will probably expire.

Works cited / sourced/ furher reading…

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Ike is host of the Untitled Car Show ( ) he has owned 2 Dodge Challengers; a Volvo C30, a V70XC, a V70R, 740; and a Saturn Ion . He is a new father and loves driving and autocrossing. He can jerry rig with the best of them, and he wrote his bio in third person. He also has 2 dogs, 2 cats and is a crazy person some say!


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