Second Circuit Addresses Availability of Copyright Protection for Architectural Drawings

Scholz Design, Inc. alleged, in part, that defendants infringed its copyrights in three front-elevation architectural drawings of homes it designed by copying and posting them on various websites.

Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint arguing that because the architectural drawings contained insufficient detail from which a building could be constructed, they could not be protected by Scholz's copyright.  The district court agreed, reasoning that

"copyright protection extends to the component images of architectural designs to the extent that those images allow a copier to construct the protected design," and therefore "the copied images do not fulfill the intrinsic function of an architectural plan and thus the act of copying them does not violate any right protected by a copyright for architectural technical drawings."

The Second Circuit reversed.  Specifically, the court disagreed with defendants' argument--adopted by the district court--that the architectural drawings were not entitled to copyright protection because they did not have sufficient detail to allow for construction of the home depicted in the drawings.

The Second Circuit opined that the district court's decision likely stemmed from a misunderstanding regarding the applicability of the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act ("AWCPA"), which added protection to "architectural works."  Prior to the enactment of the AWCPA, although architectural structures themselves were not entitled to copyright protection, architectural plans, blueprints, and drawings like that at issue in the case were covered under the Copyright Act's protection of "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works."

In this case, Scholz contended that the architectural drawings were protected under that latter pre-existing category of works subject to copyright protection and the Second Circuit agreed:

Sketches or drawings such as those allegedly infringed here . . . did receive protection before enactment of the AWCPA, although the architectural works they depicted did not.  The district court seems to have misunderstood the import and relevance of this distinction in concluding that under section 102(a)(5), architectural sketches or drawings are required to include a certain level of detail to receive protection.  Where the complaint alleges unlawful copying of a pictorial work registered under section 102(a)(5), there is no requirement of any level of detail.

Thus, the Second Circuit reversed the district court's grant of the motion to dismiss the copyright infringement claim, characterizing it "as a straightforward case of copyright infringement."

The case cite is Scholz Design, Inc. v. Sard Custom Homes, LLC, Case No. 11-3298 (2d Cir. Aug. 15, 2012).

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