Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” maybe accurate, but it may also be copyright infringement when it pertains to architectural works.

Copyright law protects architectural works, including the design of a building (e.g., houses, office buildings, churches, etc.) embodied in any tangible medium of expression such as the building, architectural plans, or drawings. An architectural work covers the overall form of the building – including elevations – and permanent divisions of interior spaces. However, architectural works do not include standard features (e.g., windows, doors, etc.), the standard configuration of rooms, purely functional components, or interior design elements.

Copyright law also incentivizes architects and designers to register their works early and often. For example, the owner of an unregistered architectural work that is subsequently infringed by a third party is limited to actual damages and any lost profits corresponding to the infringement. However, the owner of a registered architectural work may recover statutory damages between $200 and $150,000, as well as reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs. Unlike actual damages, which are often complicated and costly to prove in court, statutory damages may be awarded by the court without any such proof. Also, copyright registration is required to bring a civil action in federal court against an alleged infringer.

Architectural copyright law is rife with misconceptions and myths. However, there is no substitute or shortcut for experience when determining how to protect your designs or to defend against claims of copyright infringement. At Insigne, our lawyers have professional and practical experience in this area of law and are ready to guide you through the various complexities.