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February 10, 2015

Part 2:  Short Questions and Answers about Copyright Infringement


If you are an architect, builder, or contractor, you may run into issues of copyright infringement during your career.  As a followup to our previous introduction to copyrights, here are three important questions about copyright infringement:

How can a copyright be infringed?  Congress passed the Architectural Works Copyright Act in 1990, which provides protection to original designs of architecture in all forms, including plans, drawings, and the buildings themselves.  Therefore, a builder could be liable for copyright infringement if his building itself infringes another’s plans, regardless of whether the plans themselves were copied.  Therefore, you should not attempt to mimic other architectural works.

What constitutes copyright infringement?  A court will determine whether an infringing work is substantially similar to a copyrighted work.  This is determined by the total look or concept and feel, and whether ordinary observers consider them substantially similar.  So even if you make minor changes to a design but the total look remains the same, you may be at risk of infringement.  A copyright owner does not need to prove that you intended to copy his design, he must merely prove that you had access to the copyrighted work and that your work is substantially similar.

What sort of damages is an infringer liable for?  A court may award up to $150,000.00 per infringement, including court costs and attorney fees.


February 9, 2015

Part 1:  Short Questions and Answers about Architectural Copyrights 


The most relevant area of intellectual property law for architects is copyright.  Here are 7 short but important questions and answers to help introduce you to this area:

Who owns the rights to the copyrights in architectural plans?  In the absence of an agreement to the contrary, the creator of those plans owns the copyright.  To qualify as a creator, you must play some role in the creation of the work.

What kind of works are protected?  The work must be original, recorded, and the result of a minimum amount of effort.

Should I register my copyrights?  Although you automatically own the copyright as the creator of the work, registering a copyright is still advisable.  In order to receive enhanced remedies in the case of infringement, your copyright must be registered before the infringement takes place.  If your work is published, it must be registered within three months of publication.

What can I do with a copyright?  A copyright helps you stop other people from using your work (copying, publishing, showing, or adapting it).

How long does a copyright last?  Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years.

Can I make money with a copyright?  Yes, the holder of a copyright can license or assign his rights.  This means you can charge people to use your plans.

How can parties collaborate on projects?  If you are working with the plans of someone else, insist on being indemnified for any copyright infringement.  The written provision should also indemnify you from other intellectual property and unfair competition claims, including the duty to defend related litigation.


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