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Written by : Howard Leapheart
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this is the one world trade center building locally known as the freedom tower it's the main tower of the now reconstructed world trade center site in new york city of course it's most famous for being a part of a complex memorializing the victims of the 9 11 terror attacks however did you know the designers and developers of this building have been sued twice for copyright infringement once in 2004 and again in 2017 for allegedly copying the designs originally developed by other architects years ago the architecture firm responsible for the design skidmore owings and merrell denied these allegations and claimed any similarities in design are basically simple geometry that are industry standards and by no means unique so is there a threshold of originality for a building to be copyrightable can you even copyright a building and if so how does it actually work before i go any further i should say i am not a lawyer and this video is definitely not legal advice this is not just a disclaimer to cover myself through researching this video i've discovered that copyright law is really really complicated and of course it differs depending on where you are so you should obviously consult an actual lawyer if this is something you're concerned about but if you're just curious about how copyright works in architecture on a basic level here's a very general and broad overview can you copyright a building the short answer is yes architecture is generally considered an art similar to painting drawing and sculpting and similar to other works of art someone who creates an architectural work is entitled exclusive rights to use the work for a limited period of time the terms of copyright and how long that limited period is depends on where the copyright holder is located however the vast majority of the world implements a version of the burn convention for the protection of literary and artistic works an international copyright agreement that as of april 2022 has been adopted by 181 nation states the united states for instance joined the burn convention in 1989 prior to that architectural works did have partial protection under previously passed copyright protection laws such as the copyright act of 1909 which included protection of drawings or plastic works of a scientific or technical nature this was clarified by congress in 1976 to include an architect's plans and drawings in 1999 congress passed the architectural works copyright protection act which provided protection for the design of a building in virtually any form an architectural designer could seek protection in two ways registering the creative work as pictorial graphic and sculpture works or through registration of the building designs including but not limited to architectural plans technical drawings other construction documents sketches models illustrations and digital renderings the act also covers the overall forms arrangements and compositions of spaces this protection however does not extend to common architectural features like windows doors and other staple building components certain standard and long established architectural features like classical orders and other recognizable historic styles are also not protected the protection also doesn't include design elements attributable to building codes topography engineering necessities and other general functional elements another important distinction is that since copyright protects creative works it does not apply to newly developed technology or improvements on products and processes these fall into the realm of patents which is a discussion for another time copyright is also different from a trademark which is the composition of letters words sounds or designs meant to distinguish one company's goods or services from another historically trademarks are applied to 2d designs like logos and packaging however in 2013 apple managed to register the design of the apple store as a trademark which kind of complicates this distinction but again story for another time back to copyright in order to prove copyright infringement you must not only demonstrate that someone has indeed copied and reproduced protected elements from a work you owned the copyright to without your permission but also that they had access to your work and the two works are substantially similar this means that making minor changes to someone else's design can't get you out of being accused of copyright infringement a work also doesn't require the copyright symbol or copyright notice written on it in order to receive copyright protection additionally just because someone paid for an architectural plan or a construction document the copyright doesn't usually get transferred to the owner or constructor usually the original architect still retains the copyright and are granting a non-exclusive license to the owner or contractor to use their material for a particular construction project having said all that though how architectural copyright infringement claims unfolded reality is quite complicated inconsistent and murky according to the american institute of architects many architectural copyright infringement cases have actually demonstrated how thin the level of copyright protection for a functional building is because some architectural designs such as the design of the vast majority of single-family homes mostly consist of standard features arranged in standard ways this often makes architectural works the least protected art form because basically anything with an intrinsic utilitarian function is likely not protectable the two cases of copyright infringement claims for the freedom tower i mentioned earlier were both withdrawn by the plaintiffs after settlement agreements with the defendants before the case has ever made it to court another high-profile example is the 2008 arrivic versus sunny isles luxury ventures case involving a 43-story high-rise condominium project in 1995 to 96 designer paul oravick developed a design for a high-rise building that featured alternating concave and convex segments and elevator cores protruding through the building's roofline in 2008 aurivic filed an action under the copyright act against parties associated with two condominiums collectively known as the trump buildings in sunny isles beach florida for allegedly being derivative of his designs and thus in violation of those copyrights the 11th circuit court disagreed with his assertions since copyright protection does not extend to ideas but only to particular expressions of ideas the similarities between the trump buildings and his designs were nothing more than at the conceptual level thus they concluded that copyright will not protect the mere idea of a convex concave building any more than it would protect the idea of an arch or dome or tower however this doesn't mean that the particularized expression of these ideas cannot be protected within the context of a particular design the court stated that while it is true that oravec's designs and the trump buildings have a number of features in common these elements are similar only at the broadest level of generality to prote
Thanks for your comment Vicenta Rajwani, have a nice day.
- Howard Leapheart, Staff Member
welcome to our key marathon this week this week we're talking about stealing plagiarism there was a couple of comments from our last video where people said oh don't pay don't post drawings because people will steal them and Kev said we've talked about that and I thought no that's a stupid idea because there's no such thing as plagiarism in architecture yeah well there's the idea of copyrights and and copying is also a very important aspect of learning and so we're going to talk about that this week and Andrew is going to give us very good examples of Andrew where you I think we lost him anyone sorry to the plane of the head plagiarism yeah so people thought that the idea of posting up drawings is giving your work away drives me insane I can't innovative up people's plans and sections like if this is just there's only a certain number of ways for example to design our house like there's nothing really that revolutionary about it as though architecture is technology as soon as our we're designing these highly technological innovative advances or wherever doing is is a remix of well-founded ideas so it actually drives me nuts this idea that people think they're creating something that yes they have a copyright on but it's so innovative that they need to hide it from public view well it is also coming from clients perspective as well they just feel like there's a the idea of okay you've done the plan are you giving away I've seen your plan I'm just going to steal that and do my own thing so it's a bit like you know someone you're getting a chef to plan a huge party come over there they come up with the recipe show you some pictures of the of the food that's going to be served think oh yeah thanks fear that's okay that's interesting so I guess in our office we spend about two percent of the time drawing plans like the rest of the labor in craning a building is well beyond just what the hill house spaces are organized so that's really using analogy so there's equipment bashing things it's gonna get loud let's go this way oh look let's fade out house is there yeah one of my first houses let's have a look I wonder how it's aged let's look at all right I think was about 2006 I designed I think anyway but I think this has been copied copy yes sorry yeah so your analogy that's really interesting I think that's a really great way of putting it so thinking that somebody is stealing your work because they've copied your plans yeah that's like a chef saying there's the menu and you're going kaha now I don't need to pay for my meal because I'm gonna go home and make it based on your menu I think that's actually a pretty accurate analogy because the value of Architects is not the fact that they can draft some doors and windows and some black lines and white paper even if they write a write a cookbook like a recipe book you know like Jamie Oliver does it you know whatever they did a cookbook it's just a recipe it's the same as doing documentation you just said this is what we think is the list of instructions of how to do it but when you do it the building process you involved as well and there's there's always changes and things to fine-tune it as you go because that's huge part of the fee as well administration but yeah copying everything ceramics I think copy is incredibly important whenever I start a project I'm just looking at lots of precedents uui is teach this with the students as well they usually before you start designing yeah I showed them everything's we mix yeah three which is a great one because it talks about importance of copy that's a done laundry yeah have you seen that yes maybe but I don't know whether they Ferguson yeah I'll put a link there so I remember being in acquit once there was a student who clearly was let's call it inspired and that's fine to be it's inspired by the mountain by big young angles which we've been to and it clearly did not understand what it was it was just copying a shape so I sort of say well okay obviously you are referencing that what did you learn from that building why do you think the building was the way it was his honor I don't want to copy I just you know I'm just slightly inspired by it so no that's the point is that you need to learn what was a reason behind why the young Engels did that I mean he's very good at explaining his ideas but surely learn something and use it I mean that's that's what copying is about so yeah this pressure to be original I think I think that's huge especially in architecture school you think it's always about trying to be you know it's free you can do whatever you like and so you want to be this kind of crazy original thing it's too soon degree also in a profession as well and that's just not true like architecture is it's not art it's all about constraints the beauty of architecture is actually the constraints you know it was a Frank Lloyd Wright give me your constraints and those are the things that actually births really great creative ideas if I've got absolute freedom and I know you strongly if I've got a big site that's it empty I actually find it really really difficult I like really tight difficult sites because it forces me to actually be creative everybody's building them here it's just construction noises all over the shop I didn't get that job this is a job that I put a three in for and somebody went for half the feed got that job where we stole your plants stole my plans yeah Jesus Christ we're just picking all the spots on this construction going on if you try to copy a prominent building once you look critically at the brief you know what the client wants when you look interrogate the site to figure out the unique aspects of the site the orientation wind then you with that theme you've tried to copy will becoming something quite unique anyway because you it needs to fit to its purpose and its site if it just ends up being copy and paste it will fail in how its dealt with well there are people sectors having said that there are people who would just literally take a plane and just dump it there though yeah well I don't know I I think that happens out in the suburbs doesn't it paddocks and they just replicate plans on yeah and I think that's the general perception of what attics do you know people by project you know house plans books they're there magazines and books out there you can buy house plans right yeah so surely that that happens yeah but it's the plan that you're worried about somebody's stealing is it so innovative that it has value beyond those other plans like probably not in social media publishing plans and sections often they are not just typical construction ones they are especially drawn to communicate their design intentions yeah and they are helpful for us to understand not just together with the pretty pictures so we can see that there's a cohesive story being told by the design rather than just a bit of features and money outside or whatever so you know the plans are clear in its intention and it relates to the external expression as well yeah yeah it describes the Rieger if it exists in a building I often think about science I t
Thanks Latasha your participation is very much appreciated
- Howard Leapheart
About the author
I've studied architectural analytics at Dalton State College in Dalton and I am an expert in mathematical optimization. I usually feel sick. My previous job was engineer I held this position for 17 years, I love talking about tennis polo and diabolo. Huge fan of Lana Del Rey I practice weightlifting and collect minerals.
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