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Architectural Works

In the United States, copyright protects “architectural works.” The statute defines that as “the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression,” and gives the following examples of a “tangible medium:” a building, architectural plans, or drawings. The statute goes on to say that the architectural work includes “the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features.”

Generally, the Copyright Statute gives the copyright owner the exclusive right to reproduce the copyrighted work and to prepare derivative works; however, the copyright owner of an architectural work that has actually been constructed, does not include the right to prevent others from making pictures of the building. Also, while there are so-called “moral rights” that allow an author of a visual work to prevent the owner of a copy from “distortion,” “mutilation,” and even other actions, that does not apply to buildings. Owners of a building embodying an architectural work may alter it or even destroy it without permission from the author. Sometimes, clients are unsure whether they are dealing with visual works or architectural works – and what they can or cannot do.

If you have an issue regarding copyright in architectural works, contact Arnold & Saunders to see what we can do for your organization.

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