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Does Copyright Law Apply to Architectural Designs?


With copyright protection, a creator of a work has the exclusive right to use that work—at least for a certain period of time. When you think of copyright law, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a novel. The author has intellectual property rights over their written work. As such, a third party cannot come along and simply copy the words and sell them for a profit.

Many people are not aware of the full scope of copyright law. Under United States law, an architect’s plans and drawings are entitled to copyright protection. Though the extent of the protection is not always clear. Here, our Miami copyright litigation lawyers explain the most important things you need to know about intellectual property law and architectural designs.

Law & History: Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA)  

Architectural designs were not always protected by copyright law. In fact, when copyright protections were expanded in the early 1900s, architects were explicitly excluded from the law. For many years, design professionals were largely outside of the protection of intellectual property law. However, there were major changes over many decades that expanded copyright law to protect architects and other design professionals.

In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA)—a federal law clearly focused on protecting the intellectual work of design professionals on a commercial level. Most importantly, the AWCPA amended U.S. copyright law to include “architectural works” on its list of what is eligible for copyright protection.

The Quick Guide: Five Things to Know About Architectural Works and Copyright Law

Understanding the basic history and the key fact—that architectural works are covered by copyright law—is important for knowing how the law actually works in practice. Here is a quick guide highlighting five of the most important things design professionals should know about their rights and obligations under United States copyright law:

  1. Your creative, original architectural workers are entitled to copyright protection;
  2. It is possible to commit copyright infringement by designing a “substantially similar” structure without permission;
  3. Lack of intent is not necessarily a valid defense to a copyright infringement claim;
  4. You may be able to make minor alterations to your plan without automatically voiding all copyright protections; and
  5. Architects and design professionals should take proactive steps to register the designs.

For architects and other design professionals, copyright law is notoriously complex. If you have any specific questions about your rights or if you are involved in a dispute over a copyright, an experienced attorney can help.

Speak to Our Florida Copyright Lawyer for Immediate Assistance

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our Florida copyright attorneys are attentive and experienced advocates for companies and professionals. If you have concerns about architectural designs and copyright law, we are ready to help. Call us now for a confidential review of your case. With an office in Miami and an office in West Palm Beach, we represent clients throughout Florida.




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