Copyright in Architecture in The United States - History of Copyright in Architecture

History of Copyright in Architecture

Architecture has not always been covered by copyright law. In 1790, when the first copyright law was passed, copyright was only granted in "books, maps, and charts". In 1909, Congress broadened the scope of copyright protection to include all "writings of an author". Although architectural drawings were not expressly included in the 1909 Act, copyright protection was included under the act for "rawings or plastic works of a scientific or technical nature". Courts generally interpreted this provision to include an architectural blueprint. It was not until 1976 that Congress expressly stated its intent to include "an architect's plans and drawings", which were included under the protection of "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works". However, such protection was qualified in that "the extent to which protection would extend to the structure depicted would depend on circumstances". As a result, under the 1976 Act, most courts held that even this grant of coverage to an architect's plans and drawings did not protect an architect's right to build structures depicted in the drawings. Courts generally held that both the utilitarian doctrine prohibiting copyright in useful articles and the idea-expression dichotomy prohibiting copyright in ideas barred protection of buildings designed from architectural plans.

In 1989, the United States joined the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, which required that its signatories protect completed architectural works from infringement. As a result of both this convention and a recognition by Congress that "architecture is an art form that performs a very public, societal purpose . . . deserving of protection under the Copyright Act", Congress passed the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA), which amended the Copyright Act to specifically include "architectural works" among the list of protected works in 17 U.S.C. ยง 102.

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