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Copyrighting The Floor Plan: Architectural Works

By Elizabeth T. Russell • Jan 3rd, 2009 • Category: Intellectual Property Law, Newest Post

Although copyright protects architectural work, protection does not extend to the “individual standard features” of such work such as common windows, doors and other “staple” building components.

US Copyright Law defines an “architectural work” as: the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans or drawings. The
work includes the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features
. (17 U.S.C. § 101)

So: Individual standard features and architectural elements classifiable as ideas or concepts are not themselves copyrightable. However, an architect’s original combination or arrangement of such elements may be.

In Intervest Construction v. Canterbury Estate Homes (No. 07-12596, December 22, 2008), the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals commented that the definition of an architectural work closely parallels that of a “compilation” under the Copyright Law, that is: “[A] work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected, coordinated, or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.”

And copyright protection for compilations is “thin.” That means, it’s more difficult to prove infringement when the work in question is a compliation than it is when the work consists of completely original material.

Intervest Construction was a dispute between the copyright owners of certain floor plans for single-family homes. Floor Plan #1 was entitled to copyright protection, but primarily as a compilation. Accordingly, when the owners of Floor Plan #1 complained that Floor Plan #2 infringed, they faced a very high standard of proof. Ultimately, it was a standard they could not achieve, and their infringement claim failed.

Not all copyrights are created equal. If your client’s is “thin,” your burden for establishing infringement against another will be more difficult than if the work in question enjoyed a thicker veil of protection.

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Elizabeth T. Russell is a solo practitioner with her own firm, Russell Law. Attorney Russell self describes her firm as "Legal Services for Creative People" focusing on Intellectual Property issues, specifically Copyright and Trademark law for businesses and individuals. You can contact Beth at: Phone: (608) 833-1555 E-mail: Website: www.erklaw.com Address: 402 Gammon Place, Suite 270, Madison, WI 53719
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