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Legal question about copyright

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Brünner

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Apr 12, 2020
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Alright guys, after a couple of beers my neurons (what's left of them) started firing up and came up with a question for the law experts here.
Let's say that I want to build an exact replica of a plane no longer in production, the company is long gone and nobody - it seems - owns the assets and production rights.
For instance, let's say I want to build this:
Legally speaking am I allowed to do it?

Thanks,
Brünner
 

Mcmark

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Sep 24, 2013
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Owings, MD
Been done before.
The Wathen DeHavilland Comet twin, replicas of Mr Mulligan, Ike and so on.
Build one for you, if you want to produce for a profit might be troublesome.
 

ScaleBirdsScott

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So, not a legal expert of any kind but we've had these sorts of discussions. I think the general concept discussed previously is that even if there was some interested party who could sue, you can pretty-much build whatever you want as long as your plans and what-not aren't illegal copies, and that if you have legally acquired copies you aren't violating the terms of their copyright; then there isn't much to claim for infringement. If you were using the plans in violation of their copyright then that would be an issue. If you were using original logos and graphics that would likely also be problematic assuming those have not since lapsed into public domain. But just reverse engineering it and making a clone as close as possible based on your own interpenetration of an original article, they would have to have copyrighted the entire shape of the aircraft and actively enforce it.

If the idea is to make a kit, maybe don't make your kit an exact replica. Your kit parts can be such that someone could complete those parts into an exact replica, and maybe you offer "replacement parts" for the original depending on the legal status of doing that, but your plans might call for some slightly different geometry to be made from your kit parts that would prevent the final product from being a 100% direct clone. Minor stuff like the shape of some internal struts or maybe the window geometry is modernized or something else. Anyone could just say "screw your plans" and do it how the originals do. Let the community solve that one.

Of course the moment it's a "looks-like" or scaled replica, then pretty much do whatever as long as, again, not claiming to be official or making someone think it's the real deal.
 

TFF

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Plenty of replicas have been built, how do you think they did it? If you are profiting or someone owns something that they think they could profit off of you, you might hear something if still applicable. I doubt a Miles aircraft is one of them. If no one is around, there is no one to say no. Facsimile or replica?
 

Victor Bravo

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The Miles Aircraft company itself may be out of business, but someone may indeed own the "intellectual property", or design rights, to their aircraft.

For example, the famous actress Elizabeth Taylor died several years ago. But her legal estate will sue you out of existence if you start manufacturing something with her picture or name on it, without a license granting you permission. I can guarantee this, I happen to know the attorney for the estate.

So the answer to your idea is to first find out who if anyone owns the rights to the Miles Aircraft designs. It may be some descendant of Mr. Miles, or it may be some corporation. Even if there is someone who owns this, you still have a perfectly good chance of getting permission to do what you wish to do. You could offer a small royalty fee for each Miles design aircraft that you produce... it's not like dozens of people are fighting for the opportunity.
 

cblink.007

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Everything said here is on track. We consulted with legal counsel about our aircraft, ultimately intended for production as a kit, when the engineering work to that point was showing a solution that looked strikingly close to the Horten Aircraft PUL-10:

The Horten Aircraft PUL-10:
horten-new_pul-10-2.jpg
The L-V Aeronautics LV-14 "Shrike":
20200826_090942.jpg

We were told that as long as we did not copy anything proprietary on the PUL-10, such as aerodynamic, structural design details, performance and such, we were good to go. Having a good relationship with the chaps at Horten from my time in Germany, ie Bernhard Mattlener, Mathis Esser et al, helped our case immensely. All said, we are currently securing the copyrights to our design.

The one thing we were told, ad nauseum, not to do was to post specific technical information about the aircraft...namely aerodynamic details such as the geometry of the airfoils, wing twist, etc. Anything posted on the public domain is effectively free game for others!

...last round-- unlike the PUL-10 that I had to shoehorn my 5-11 frame into to fly, the cockpit on ours is designed to accomodate two 6-2, 250lb adults. Just saying.;)
 
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Chilton

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Jersey, channel islands
For example he specific case of the Miles Messenger, the Miles aircraft company was bought by Handley Page aircraft, who later went into liquidation, so I would expect no issued on that one, though finding enough design information to build more than a lookalike may be difficult.

I think the Walthen DH 88 Comet replica had drawings supplied in such a way as to provide separation and plausible deniability from British Aerospace, but there was no question of copyright infringement, just enough to protect BAE if anyone was hurt by the aircraft.
 

cluttonfred

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Patents - my protected ideas - can be enforced as long as the patent remains valid, which varies by country.

Copyright - my specific implementation of freely available ideas - the actual drawings and logos can be copyrighted but not design itself, though interpretations may vary by country, however.

Hence the Wag-Aero Piper clones, for example, using exactly interchangeable parts with vintage Cubs and Pacers and Vagabonds, are not a problem as long as they create their own drawings and don't call them Pipers.
 

rv7charlie

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Thanks Matthew; I'm glad I refreshed the page before I started typing. Specific to the Wag-Aero stuff; they used to call their clones by slightly altered Piper model names, until Piper went after them for it (copyright/trademark). What changed was names; not designs/products.

I've never seen/heard an aviation lawyer talk about whether there's an intellectual property difference between a patent on, say, a mouse trap, and an aircraft design. I suspect that there isn't. I suspect that what makes the a/c design different is that while Wag-Aero can legally produce all the parts for a product with an expired patent, they can't sell a completed normal category plane because they haven't gone through the design approval process with the FAA like Piper has (Piper 'earned' the right to use the design in a production a/c), and Wag-Aero hasn't obtained approval for the actual production *process* (a different certification), like Piper has. You can't legally put Wag-Aero's uncertified parts on your certified Cub/etc, either, for similar reasons. Though there are some interesting...loopholes... related to that .

Perhaps a good example of that 'split hair' would be the auto fuel STC. Peterson did the testing on various a/c, documented it, and submitted findings to the FAA for approval. They can now *sell* you an auto fuel STC for your certified plane (if you're lucky enough to fly one within the family of STCs). EAA also sells auto fuel STCs, but they had to go through their own testing/documentation/approval process with FAA, independent of Peterson's data. There might be no physical change to the a/c at all, but without the (purchased) STC paperwork, it isn't legal to fly that particular plane on auto fuel. No patents or copyrights involved at all.

Charlie
 

Brünner

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Beer country
Thanks all, very informative.
It seems to me that the best way to proceed in case of building a replica would be to contact a lawyer in the country where the company was located and ask for a search about who owns what and go from there.
 

Speedboat100

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Alright guys, after a couple of beers my neurons (what's left of them) started firing up and came up with a question for the law experts here.
Let's say that I want to build an exact replica of a plane no longer in production, the company is long gone and nobody - it seems - owns the assets and production rights.
For instance, let's say I want to build this:
Legally speaking am I allowed to do it?

Thanks,
Brünner

I think Hugo Junkers patented the flying wing in 1910...so it must have expired by now.

I have been in many dire situations where my innovations have been sorta "recycled" in several cases where I was always the loosing partisipant. Possibly my flooding phase in aeroplane designs was one of the heeling projects for me.

Anyway architectural competitions, wind turbines and aeroplanes and other vehicles are always constantly in heavy competiton and a small individual in the compression of big companies and states even can do very little to protect himself.

FBI has notissed this phenomena: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/208135.pdf

Certainly a spitting image of someone else's design is naturally a sign of a similar thinking and a permission is good to ask to go on....like you did.
 

Speedboat100

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We can all be very blessed by the fact that Wright brothers did a "backwards" flying biplane otherwise we'd all be paying their relatives hefty sums of money.
 

Highflight

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As I understand the Copyright Laws; you are allowed to build one of anything for "personal use". You however cannot sell copies or plans of a protected product or use the product for commercial purposes. If I were to build a replica of Mickey Mouse for my backyard it is not a problem. Using the Mickey replica to attract customers to my place of business or a likeness of it in my ads or business cards would not be allowed.
 

rv7charlie

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See #10, above. Copyright does not apply to physical 'stuff'. The actual *drawing* depicting that 'stuff' is copyrighted, but the *design* would carry the patent. Make your own drawing; it's your drawing (with your copyright, even). Think of the 'artist's drawings' depicting cutaways of things like, well airplanes. But copy the original drawing (or plans set): copyright violation. (Except: copying a drawing *you purchased*, for your personal backup, is perfectly legal.)

But any object you create based on the *design* of an active patent is a patent violation, even if it's for your own personal use. (Not likely you'd get prosecuted, but still a violation.)
 

Pops

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Many years ago I had a idea and made the item and a trusted friend took a picture of it, and sold the design to a company that put it on the market and sold the product all over the world. My trusted, so call friend, went on a expensive buying frenzy. Latter I went to the manufacturing conference and met the owner of the large company and told him what I thought of him. Then the crazy thing about it, about a year latter the company offered me a job as a designing engineer. I told then they couldn't afford me.
 
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rv7charlie

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That kinda illustrates one of the 'interesting' differences between patents & copyrights. If you'd written something (song, story, description of the object you made, even taken a picture of the object), those creations would be *automatically* copyrighted. It would be up to you to *defend* your copyright (prove you wrote, photographed, etc), but they'd be *yours* under copyright law.

But since your friend took the picture, it was his copyrighted picture.

But, since you hadn't gone through the active torture of obtaining a patent, your physical creation had no protection. Unless your 'friend' went through the patent process before taking the design to that mfgr, they didn't *have* to pay him anything, either (assuming they could figure out how to make it from the pic).

The law is like quantum mechanics; makes sense to quantum physicists, but not in the context of normal physics.
 

trimtab

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rocky mountains, rocky, usa
Pretty great performance. This makes a 172 obsolete.

There is nothing legally actionable about designing and building and selling something substantially identical to this. Copyrights are irrelevant to the plane, and if there are patents, they are long expired.
 
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