Serious: Can topology and/or modeling techniques be copyrighted?

I cannot for the life of me find any discussion on topology or modeling technique copyright anywhere, if there is any discussions about it please link me to it thanks !

There are a number of head reference topology out there from years of topology research from many people, say if you were to pick one and go with it. but your character design is your own, you are just using his modeling technique which naturally result in the same topology but obviously flows differently because of your own character design.

Can the creator of the modeling technique or topology sue you for using/teaching his topology and modeling technique ?

Can someone says “Hey that’s my edge extrusion method or hey that’s my box modeling technique I am going to sue your ass !” ?

Can someome says “Hey that’s my topology I am going to sue your ass !” ?

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No, of course. A topology is not an original creation but a part of a creation, like colours are part of painting. There’s no way to copyright a color scheme, style or anything of this sort. Only the whole product can be copyrighted.


Thank you.

What about the process ?
Like say someone have a an edge extrusion or box modeling process.
Could you be sued if you teach that same modeling process ?

No, thats just silly. Imagine if you got sued by Bob Ross’s estate, because you told someone to make a straight down paint stroke.


Exactly what I was gonna say

Ok so to be certain, you cannot “copyright” or “own” a unique box modeling process.

Nah, I’ve never heard of that. No modelling process is unique so it would be outlandish to try and copyright one

This is an interesting subject. My understanding of this comes under the general heading of intellectual property. From my more-or-less high level understanding from studying this off and on over the last 40 years, for various reasons and situations, intellectual property is broken down into three main areas. each have different uses and laws and means to establish and enforce.

  1. Copyright. It’s use is in the name. The right to copy something. That “something” is defined by copyright law. But generally speaking is is a creative work, such as a song, book, play, movie or painting. It comes with certain restrictions. General ideas (boy gets girl) are not copyrightable. But moving closer to a central idea is copyrightable. And there are certain guides that lawyers and judges try to follow to determine what constitutes a violation. These things get fought about in court. It is never ever clear cut and simple. And it is highly driven by case law - see below.

  2. Trademark. Again the name describes what it protects. A mark (symbol and/or phrase) that represents a given trade - commerce. Generally speaking. But the law goes over the specifics. Again it comes with certain restrictions. And also a set of specific rules you need to follow. If you don’t follow them, you could loose a mark. Or never get it registered. Doing so is an expensive and complex process. But it is generally intended to protect things like “Disney” “Pixar” and avoid confusion in the market place that - here is the main thing - can cause loss of money to one party. It can also protect things like “Make America Great Again”. Look it up.

So if you want to sell T shirts with your character, file a copyright. If you want your character to represent your brand, file a trademark.

  1. Patents. This last one covers a process or method of creating something, or the unique thing. Or both. It also can protect certain designs. For example a car or a blender or lawn mower design. Its intent is to cover industry and manufacturing. And it covers things like formulas in drinks that have a specific flavor. (which actually is a Trade Secret not a Patent) It can cover certain technology, like certain processes in computing or any thing that can be replicated in any kind of industry, including digital software and methods.

One famous and controversial case is the guy who filed a patent for his CG hair method and sued Autodesk ( and others I think) for ripping him off:

I believe he eventually lost. But it is worth researching.

So, now. The main hitch with filing a patent, is that you also have to not have published anything about it. This is a tricky one. And I won’t pretend to know how to determine this aspect of if or all that it can mean.

But, clearly the Patent law is intended to protect things, such as a method of retopolgy as well as a plugin to do it. The trick here is not could you file a patent. You could. And if you are a part of a large firm that was making plugins you would definitely be also filing patents on them.

And here is why. Copyright would only cover the code. Line for line. Not the process of making it work. You could trademark “My Best Retopolgy Tool”. And no one could release a tool with that name. But a person could trademark another name, steel your process and code it another unique way. And there is nothing you could do about that unless you filed a patent. And you could only file the patent - before - you released the plugin - as I understand it.

The same could be true for paint strokes or topology methods. The problem with these kinds of things are that they are generally considered common knowledge and out in the society. They have essentially long since been “published”. And no one can ever claim a unique right to it.

But anything you think is a unique method that you know, that no one has thought of before, you could, in theory patent it.

By the way, legal agreements, contracts (including EULA, all of the open source legalese) and so on are not law. Law is what is written in the law books as passed through some form of legislation and is enforceable within the territory/industry or level of government they were intended. A legal agreement (ELUA or any kind of legal language) or contract can violate laws, so laws take precedence. And laws are never enforced by the written letter of the law, they are enforced by judges and juries. And case law is the study of previous case decisions by judges and juries that set the standard for future decisions. The law, which can be interpreted in many ways, is not the final word. Ever.

Joe Alter will attest to this. Right or wrong. I don’t know. But he lost that one.

The only person qualified to deal with any of this is a lawyer familiar with each particular type of IP who is familiar with not just the law but more importantly, case law.

EDIT: I left out a 4th one which is Trade Secret. Doesn’t really apply here. But it is similar to a Patent but it follows completely different rules and laws. Mainly, that it allows you to keep something secret. Whereas a Patent is made public and similar to other IP it must be licensed in order to be used.


“Box modeling” is not even a process. It’s an artificial term.

Wow, that is so amazing…

Patents protect something new and original. But just because something is new and original does not mean that a patent can be achieved. Your question about a specific topology might be answered by saying that Architects get protection with regards to their design. Some Architects have sued photographers and media outlets that published pictures of their buildings. see also A painter has a copyright on the painting but you are completely allowed to try to manually duplicate the painting because the duplicate will not be identical. I have never been refused by a museum or large art gallery to bring in pencil and paper to try to copy a work of art but photos are not allowed. An employer can require new employees to sign nondisclosure agreements. The employer could then teach you how to do some techniques. If you later work for another employer the specific techniques might not be something which you are allowed to use. It would be shakey grounds to sue unless the former employee took papers, software, books etc. Perfume somewhat like books, only the exact formula, or words, not the smell or the overall story can get protection. For further quirks search about some of the fights about songs. Happy Birthday was considered copyrighted for a long time.
If you scan a Barbie model and put it online there will likely be a cease and desist order from a lawyer very quickly.
So a very common thing to do when you want to protect yourself from a lawsuit saying that you have copied someone else’s design is to be “inspired” by more than one person. Keep copies of the thing which inspire you, for example many photos, textures etc.
Furniture has had fights and the clothing industry is a mess of knock-offs.
So, fan fiction is ok. Painting Mona Lisa is ok. A Canadian company took years to win a battle brought on by Lego. Lego claimed something light design rights on the shape of the lego block. But never, every duplicate something from a Hollywood movie. They will come down on you so hard you will look like a coyote run over on the road.

OK, so I think I see where this is going. I was going to add more specific information after you PM’d me, as I realized there is really only one way this can go. So I am going to answer here more generally, rather than try to be specific to your particular situation. Obviously I would need a lot more information than what you gave me - even if I was a lawyer - and I am not.

So this should cover the general area you are concerned about.

First, there is a difference between giving credit where credit is due, and any copyright issue. I was going to also add that copyright is about copying. Not duplicating. There is a difference. So…

You can be guilty of copying, without making a physical duplicate. So for instance, the closer you get to the original, the closer you are to making a copy.

Lets take a training video for example. Somebody makes a video about using box modeling to create a head. Old technique. I am not even sure if people use it anymore… but…

You make a video, same subject. Professional courtesy. Credit the guy who gave you the idea. He is concerned about competition? It is really too bad. Welcome to a free market.

He has a Trademark. Retopo Joe’s Videos with a logo.

You copy his logo pretty closely and call your company, Retopo Moe’s Videos. He may or may not have a case in court, but certainly a reason to start contacting you on legal grounds.

You use your own company trademark (registered or not) to create the video. You replicate his sequence to a T, using your own model even if it looks different. Hmmm… moving in closely, But probably not enough. Credit him and buy him dinner.

You copy his sequence to a T in your own video. The model looks different, but… you transcribe his voice and recant it yourself in your own video. Both the sequence of events and copy of the dialog is enough, he should be contacting you in some way on legal grounds…

At this point you are starting to take his creative work and replicating it (for profit or not makes no difference) without his permission and without a license and giving him a cut if money is being made.

See where this is going?

In general, the idea with copyright is not to stop the flow of information and sharing of ideas, yet at the same time protecting individual intellectual property.

The best advice I could give anyone is to study the three types of intellectual property, the rules laws and practices that are customary and legal. Then make up your own mind.

If you are getting into an actual legal exchange with someone, (any kind of legal communication even email or calls) use a lawyer.

A painter has a copyright on the painting but you are completely allowed to try to manually duplicate the painting because the duplicate will not be identical.

That’s… not how it works.

They allow you to draw in museums because your 30 min sketch certainly isn’t going to be an actual reproduction. They’re going to assume you’re doing an art study and that’s the historical way to learn how to paint and illustrate, so that’s hardly frowned upon. You can read more about copyrights regarding this here.

Basically, you don’t have the right to reproduce something (copy right…) because you did it “manually”. To put this in context: If you were to model Sonic “in your own way”, change a tiny detail here and there and call him “Fast Noise” you’d still be infringing its copyright.

Now, a technique is something completely different. As far as I know you can’t copyright a technique because copyright applies to intellectual properties, aka a work, something a modelling technique definitively isn’t.

If I had to guess I’d say techniques fall perhaps in the trade secret area, but I can’t really tell as I only know a bit about intellectual properties. Unless it’s something involving new technology even considering it a trade secret sounds a bit of a stretch.


As far as my understanding goes. You cannot copyright a technique. you can not even copyright an algorithm. Only its implementation.

As a rule of thumb, if you know you dont have malicious intentions and are not using files (bytes) generated by that person for profit without their permission, you are fine.

As long as the information from someone had to go through your eyes and ears, through your brain and back to the world from your hands, its no longer the same thing, it’s your thing, you own it.

BUT! This thing you own came from your brain and contain information about your intentions so, when you try to use it publically, people catch on those intentions, and if they seem malicious, then you may get in trouble.

It might not even be legal trouble, it can be social trouble as people notice and say things like “Look at that guy he copied that art and tried to sell it as if he was it was the inventor of that technique.”

As an example, I made this picture, I own it, if you download and take it on photoshop, do some editing, and try to post on the web saying you made it from scratch, then you are a bad person and I could sue you (I wouldn’t).

But if you take it as reference and replicate exactly the same arrangement of the quads to your model, then I can’t do anything because it’s your model, not mine.
Topology is not copyrightable, characters are.

Fascinating discussion you’ve sparked over here!
For what you’re trying to do, don’t worry about it. Lots of professionals I know look up wireframes from others to learn and use in their own work.
Topology can be compared to math formulae that you learn from school, it’s taught and shared. The CG industry is usually quite friendly (as I see it, at least), and knowledge, whether free or paid, is not withheld. Tools maybe, but not techniques or workflows.
Of course, I’m no expert and not the most knowledgeable on this matter. The other folks here have listed really well backed-up points.


Just wanted to jump in again to say people can sue but they might not win. So if you don’t have deep pockets to pay a lawyer, even if you are legally allowed to do something, you may have to back off. See this article where Activision was able to render a Humvee model in their game. AM General sued for trademark infringement.

Hello, see this now for the first time.

TL;DR; can topo/modeling tech be copyrighted ? No.

A topo/modeling is a process. As such, it cannot be copyrighted. What you can do with a process is filing for a patent… but…

By the way Bracer contacted me privately and shared the email exchange, which of course, I won’t share here. But as it happens I know the person, well know of the person, interacted online that is, that he was was talking to.

And my post above pretty much covers the concerns. It is not just about topology, it was that he was making a video tutorial based on another tutorial. And he was talking to the author of that tutorial, more or less checking if this would be OK.

So this does raise a lot of very valid copyright points. The main one would be derivative works. A tutorial can have a copyright of its own. Even if it uses techniques and technology you could consider publicly and socially exchanged. Or even discusses a work in the public domain.

So you have a tricky situation where as soon as you start covering the same material and technique you have to tread carefully. While topology might not hold a copyright on its own, it becomes a part of what might make one tutorial infringe on another.

For example. Two tutorials use the same topology to a T. I mean each and every bit of poly flow is exactly the same. And the author goes about it in a certain sequence. And he says or writes certain things. So it is a package deal. So the part of the tutorial that has the topology is not in itself copyrightable.

But it so happens it also informs the content of the tutorial, which is copyrightable.

And if the second tutorial copies the sequence, that might not be copyrightable either. On its own. But if you make a tutorial that follows the same sequence, with the same toplogy, you are now starting to infringe on the other tutorial. If you start saying pretty much the same thing, though not exactly, you are now infringing closer.

So it is a matter of understanding what a copyright is, which is the right to protect an original work. The original work in this case, is discussing topology and how to model it. That is copyrightable. And the content shared as a whole, gets looked at as to how much of that original work was infringed.

So if you want to copy some tutorial, on the same subject, and teach basically the same thing, you will have to do it in an original way that does not infringe on another tutorial directly. I think that is the main issue here.

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You can say its your edge extrusion method, just like Admiral Holdo can say “thats my maneuver against Star Destroyers”… you cannot copyright them.

if it isnt bad enough that education is pay-to-win, now we got the idea of copyrighting it? :man_facepalming: