The owner of DesktopNexus, a major provider of user-generated desktop backgrounds on the web, was contacted by Toyota's lawyers and told any image featuring a Toyota, Scion or Lexus vehicle was property of Toyota and should be removed, including images created by users. As you'd imagine, the users at DesktopNexus are not pleased and have been uploading Toyotas at a furious rate with titles like "Don't Buy Toyota" and "Copyright This" in order to show their disapproval. We look at the legal and PR issues Toyota must face after kicking a hornet's nest — a hornet's nest full of underemployed people with Photoshop skills and blogs — below the jump.

The automaker clearly owns the car images it created, such as press photos and catalogs. However, Toyota loses some authority over these works when they disseminate them tot he public at large. But let's ignore that for a moment and focus on the other side of content — works created by individuals of Toyota products owned by individuals. An automaker doesn't posses the copyright far a painting of a Toyota Camry produced by an individual and uploaded to the site. They don't have the copyright on an image of a Toyota as shot by someone else, like this shot of someone's personal Highlander. As Torrent Freak points out, Toyota hasn't sent an official copyright notice to the site but has merely unofficially requested the images be taken down. If they sent a DMCA (The Digital Millennium Copyright Act) notice, there would have to be a discernment between different wallpapers. The desktop site's owner said that Toyota wants to be paid to identify what is and what isn't a photo covered by Toyota's copyrights. The Japanese carmaker can win, essentially, by dragging this out into an expensive legal standoff. But why should they try? Most of these images are actually used as promotional materials, which means that the company hopes people will share them. Many of them are wallpapers. From what we've seen on the site, most of the wallpapers are created to promote Toyota vehicles. In fact, the only negative images we've seen came after Toyota made this move. It seems strange that they're looking to piss off the same demographic group they created an entire brand to capture. Of course, the Scion Taco Truck will surely bring them back. [Torrent Freak]