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Why is architectural copyright important to society? 
Buildings are used for commercial and personal purposes which have great benefits to society. Architectural copyrights protect the time and effort spent by talented designers and architects to develop buildings.  

Does copyright protect more than just house drawings? 
Yes. The design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings, is protectable under U.S. Copyright law as an “architectural work.” Architectural works protect the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features. Architectural plans are also offered protection as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.”  

Are all projects protected as architectural works?   
No.  For example, plans for golf courses, gardens, tunnels, bridges, overpasses, fences, and walls, bridges, dams, walkways, tents, recreational vehicles, mobile homes, and boats, would not be plans for buildings and would not qualify for protection as architectural works. 

Is a copyright notice like “©” required to protect architectural works? 
No.  Since March 1, 1989, no copyright notice has been required to secure a copyright. 

How long does copyright protection for architectural works last? 
Modern copyright protection last the life of the author plus 70 years. 

Can I copyright my ideas for a building as an architectural work? 
No.  Copyright protection does not apply to ideas, architectural works only extend copyright protection to the expression of an idea in a drawing, plan, or building. 

Do my architectural works have to be novel? 
No.  Novelty is not required for copyright protection. 

What rights do copyright holders have in architectural works? 
In general, architectural works copyright holders have the same rights as other copyright holders including the right to reproduce the architectural work in copies; the right to prepare derivative works based upon the architectural works; and the right to distribute copies of the architectural works to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending; to display the copyrighted work publicly. However, architectural works also have specific limitations related to pictorial representations and alterations of the architectural works by owners of the building. 

Does a home builder who pays for a set of plans acquire the copyrights for those plans?  
Generally not.  Usually when a customer pays a designer to design a building, the designer or architect who created the plans retains the copyright in the architectural work and the customer receives a license to use the plans for the intended project. 

Do architectural works have to be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office to be protected? 
No.  Modern copyrights do not have to be registered in order to qualify for copyright protection. 

Should I register my architectural works for copyright protection? 
You should register architectural works before infringement for several reasons.  First, a certificate of registration that was issued within five years of first publication is prima facie evidence of the validity of the copyright. Second, if you register your architectural work for copyright protection before infringement begins you may recover statutory damages and attorney’s fees. Finally, you will have to register your architectural work before you file suit to enforce any of your rights as a copyright holder. 

How do I register my architectural works for copyright protection? 
Albritton Law Firm can register your architectural works and technical drawings with the U.S. Copyright Office for no additional cost above the registration fees, and then pursue infringers at no cost to you unless we win. 

How much does it cost to register my architectural works for copyright protection? 
The U.S. Copyright Office usually charges between $35 and $55 per work to register copyrights.  Albritton Law Firm can register your architectural works and technical drawings with the U.S. Copyright Office for no additional cost above the registration fees, and then pursue infringers at no cost to you unless we win.

What type of penalties are there for copyright infringement of architectural works? 
A copyright owner may be able to recover statutory damages or actual damages and the profits of the infringer, plus attorneys' fees and court costs.  In some circumstances a copyright holder may be able to get an injunction to prevent the construction of infringing buildings. 

What are statutory damages in an architectural works case? 
Courts have discretion to award statutory damages which are usually between $200 and $30,000 per architectural work that was infringed. In cases of willful infringement, the Court may award up to $150,000 per architectural work infringed. 

What are the copyright holder’s actual damages in an architectural works case? 
The amount of actual damages in an architectural works cases is generally the designer or architect’s lost profits or lost license fees.  Actual damages in architectural works cases generally do not include emotional distress of the copyright holder. 

How are the profits of the infringer determined in an architectural works case? 
The copyright holder has to show the amount of gross profits (the total amount) an infringer received attributable to infringement of the architectural work.  Gross profits may include profit from selling infringing buildings and may even extend other revenue attributable to the infringement of the building, such as a business’ overall profit.  The infringer then has the burden of showing what profits were earned for reasons other than infringement.     

Can I recover attorney’s fees in an architectural works lawsuit? 
Possibly.  Attorney’s fees are discretionary in an architectural works case.  However, it is common in the Fifth Circuit for courts to award attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in copyright infringement actions. 

Can a copyright infringer hide behind a corporation to avoid paying copyright claims?

Usually not.  Copyright law provides for vicarious liability, allowing a copyright holder to go after the business owner directly under certain circumstances. 

What type of defenses can an accused infringer assert in an architectural works case? 
General copyright defenses usually apply in architectural works cases depending on the specific facts of the case.  Some examples of defenses asserted in architectural works include: independent creation, fair use, implied license, statute of limitations, estoppel, and laches.

What is the statute of limitations on copyright infringement for architectural works? 
The statute of limitations for copyright infringement of architectural works is three years.  However, the statute of limitations is subject to the discovery rule, in other words, the three year period may begin when you first discover facts that would lead you to inquire whether there was copyright infringement. 

What if I have more questions? 
There is no specialization for copyright law or architectural works offered by the State Bar of Texas; however, Albritton Law Firm has devoted substantial time and effort to studying and working on architectural works issues.  We offer FREE consultations to discuss your specific facts and questions.  Call us today at 1-866-757-8449 for a FREE consultation!


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ARCHITECURAL COPYRIGHT - FAQs