Written by Mark Terry
Can you protect architectural drawings and constructed buildings using copyrights? As a Miami Copyright Attorney with an active copyright docket, this is a question I’ve been asked more than once.
Generally the answer is
yes. An original design of a building created in any tangible medium of
expression, including a constructed building or architectural
plans, models, or drawings, is subject to copyright protection as an
“architectural work” under 17 U.S.C. §102 of the Copyright Act. Protection
extends to the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of
spaces and elements in the design but does not include individual standard
features or design elements that are functionally required. The term “building”
means structures that are habitable by humans and intended to be both permanent
But here is the tricky
part. Architectural designs created on or after Dec. 1, 1990 are subject to
copyright. Also, unpublished architectural designs constructed
between Dec. 1, 1990 and Jan. 1, 2003. are subject to copyright.
BUT any designs constructed
or published BEFORE Dec. 1, 1990 are NOT subject to copyright. Also, any unpublished
and non-constructed designs created BEFORE Dec. 1, 1990 but
constructed between Dec. 1, 1990 and Dec. 31, 2002 are NOT subject to
copyright. Additional works that are NOT subject to copyright include
structures other than buildings, such as bridges, cloverleafs, dams, walkways,
Protection for an
architectural work created as a work made for hire on or after December 1,
1990, lasts for 95 years from the date of publication of the work or for
120 years from the date of creation of the work, whichever term is less. A work
made for hire is one prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her
employment, such as an architect employed by a firm.
Protection for an architectural work created on or after December 1, 1990, by
an individual (not as a work made for hire) lasts for the life of the author
plus 70 years.
To recap, architectural works are subject to copyright, but care must be taken to record the dates of important events, such as dates of publication and construction, in order to determine whether you are dealing with a work that may not be eligible for copyright.