Architecture. One of my favorite forms of art, if not my favorite. Stand in front of the U.S. Capitol, enter St. Patrick’s in New York, look up at the Chrysler Building and you can understand why (I would have thrown in the Hagia Sofia, Pantheon, and Versailles…but I’ve actually seen the ones I mentioned). Architecture stands at a unique crossroads in the world of art, wholly creative and yet wholly functional, and that’s pretty darn cool. In fact, Vitruvius, first century AD Roman architect and major influence on Andrea Palladio (who started a wonderful Classical that can best be seen in Italian villas, British estates, and the designs of our very own Thomas Jefferson), wrote that good architecture satisfied three principles: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas, or durability, utility, and beauty. As an aside, if Palladio is of any interest to you, check out this essay on his influence on early American architecture, it’s very interesting.
Ok, our introduction is out of the way, on to the law. As stated above, architecture stands astride the creative and the utilitarian, so where does it fall in terms of intellectual property? Well, it comes as no surprise that architecture has it’s own little niche in the world of copyright law. First, like all pictorial representations, architectural drawings (and sculptures) are protected under 17 U.S.C. Sec. 102(a)(5). This protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years and is the basic copyright protection associated with pictorial works such as the rights to reproduce, distribute, or display a work (i.e. a diagram or sculpture based on the design). However, Section 102(a)(8) gives stronger protections, and better ones, to the architect. In addition to the protections offered under 102(a)(5), 102(a)(8) allows you to prevent the construction of a registered building. There are a couple of restrictions to 102(a)(8) though. Namely, once that building is built the owner has control of an alteration to the building (including bringing it down). Second, if the building is “ordinarily visible” then you, as architect, can’t stop people from taking and distributing pictures, nor drawings, nor other representations of the building itself (though the actual design, the plans, are still protected).
Also of note is the idea of work-made-for-hire. Basically, if you’re working in the capacity of an employee for an architectural firm, the work belongs to the firm. If you’re on your own and someone hires you, the design may go to them, or you may get to keep it…this depends on whether you are an employee (say, getting benefits, and falling under tax law as an employee), or an independent contractor (you got paid and that was that).
Finally, the Fifth Circuit recently made news by upholding an architectural copyright infringement award. Hallmark Design Homes had used the designs of Kipp Flores Architects in constructing hundreds of houses. The lower court found the construction to be a violation of Kipp Flores’ registered copyright and awarded the firm $3.2 million in damages. The Appeals court agreed to that decision. Moral of the story, follow the link (also given above) to make sure your work and your firm’s work are properly copyrighted, and get real protection for the use of those designs.
Miroslava Brooks holds a Master of Architecture from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from The Ohio State University. Currently, she is continuing her travels around the world, pursuing research into world metropolises, trying to understand the critical and instrumental role of architecture in our society. Her travels are funded by the Yale School of Architecture. The photo shown above was from her travels to Madrid. Click here to view more work from her Travelog.