Copyright in Architecture in The United States - Rights Granted To Architects By Copyright Law

Rights Granted To Architects By Copyright Law

Copyright in architectural works is established under 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(8). Moreover, protection of pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works is established under 17 U.S.C. § 102(a)(5). Thus, architects can receive two levels of protection for their works: one for the design of a building as embodied in buildings, architectural plans, or drawings under § 102(a)(8) and one for diagrams, models, and technical drawings themselves under § 102(a)(5).

Copyright in a design, whether registered under § 102(a)(5) or § 102(a)(8), generally gives an architect the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, display, and prepare a work based upon the design. This protection, unless the work is a work-made-for-hire, lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years. However, several limitations on those rights apply depending upon which section the work is registered under. The most significant limitation to registering a design as a "pictorial, graphic, or sculptural" work under § 102(a)(5) is that the copyright owner cannot prevent the construction of a building based upon the registered design. In contrast, while construction of a building can be prevented under § 102(a)(8), two other important limitations apply when registering a design as an "architectural work". First, when a building is ordinarily visible from a public place, its protection as an "architectural work" does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work. Thus, the architect will not be able to prevent people from taking photographs or otherwise producing pictorial representations of the building. Second, owners of a copyrighted building may both make or authorize the making of alterations to the building and destroy or authorize destruction of the building. Thus, the architect will not have the right to prevent the owner of a house that he or she designed from altering or destroying the building. This exception also allows owners of partially complete buildings to complete the building using construction plans created by the architect.

An architect is not strictly limited to the set of rights granted in the Copyright Act, as the architect may contract for greater rights.

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