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Architectural Copyright Infringement

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Manish Jindal

February 15, 2024

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Architectural Copyright Infringement

Architectural copyright infringement refers to the unauthorised use, reproduction, or modification of architectural designs protected by copyright law.

In the realm of architecture, creativity, and originality are highly valued, and architects rely on copyright protection to safeguard their unique designs.

Architectural works, including buildings, structures, and architectural plans, can be protected by copyright.

The Copyright Act recognises that original architectural designs are intellectual property, deserving of legal protection.

Infringement occurs when someone copies or uses copyrightable elements of a protected architectural work without permission.

This can include replicating the design, modifying it, or creating derivative works without proper authorisation.

Architectural copyright infringement can arise in various contexts, such as building construction, remodeling, or the creation of similar structures.

Architectural Works under Copyright Act, 1957

Architectural works, as defined in Section 2(b) of the Copyright Act 1957, encompass buildings, structures, and models that exhibit artistic character or design.

This includes various constructions and models, as explicitly stated in Section 2(c)(ii) of the Act.

Notably, architectural works, such as the design of your house, can be subject to copyright protection.

Initially, architectural works were not specifically protected under copyright law.

However, amendments were made to the Berne Convention in 1908, leading to the inclusion of architectural works in the list of “literary and artistic works.”

To provide explicit protection to architectural works, various legislations were amended accordingly.

It is important to highlight that certain structures, like boats, bridges, and dams, may not be eligible for copyright protection under the law, despite their architectural nature.

Freedom of Panorama

Freedom of Panorama” is a provision in the Copyright Act of 1957 that allows for certain exceptions.

Although the term itself is not explicitly mentioned in the Act, Section 52 provides similar provisions that prevent certain acts from being considered copyright infringement.

The section can be understood through the following key points:

  • Section 52(1)(s) permits the making and publishing of paintings, engravings, drawings, or photographs of works of architecture, including their public display.
  • The creation and publication of drawings, paintings, photographs, or engravings of sculptures, artistic works, or works of artistic craftsmanship are allowed if these works are permanently located in public places or accessible to the public.
  • Artistic works permanently situated in public places or accessible to the public can be included in cinematograph films.

In contrast to European and American copyright laws, which may restrict the freedom of panorama to non-commercial or educational purposes, the Indian copyright law does not impose such limitations.

This aspect of Indian copyright law allows for greater flexibility and appreciation of creative works in public spaces.

Related Article: Infringement of Copyright in India

Legal Protection Under the Design Act.

The definition of design is provided in Section 2(d) of the Design Act, 2000.

the features of shape, configuration, pattern, ornament or composition of lines or colours applied to any article whether in two dimensional or three dimensional or in both forms, by any industrial process or means, whether manual, mechanical or chemical, separate or combined, which in the finished article appeal to and are judged solely by the eye; but does not include any mode or principle of construction or anything which is in substance a mere mechanical device, and does not include any trade mark as defined in clause (v) of sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Trade and Merchandise Marks Act, 1958 or property mark as defined in section 479 of the Indian Penal Code or any artistic work as defined in clause (c) of section 2 of the Copyright Act, 1957.

The Design Act of 2000 has specific provisions for the registration of architectural works under Class 25-03 and 25-99.

However, this raises a potential conflict regarding the appropriate protection for architectural works.

The question arises as to whether architectural works should be safeguarded under the Copyright Act of 1957 or under the Design Act of 2000.

Additionally, Section 15(2) of the Copyright Act of 1957 comes into play in determining which works would be protected through designs versus copyrights.

This conflict necessitates a careful examination of the legal framework to ascertain the appropriate course of action in terms of protecting architectural works and determining the applicable rights and regulations.

Architectural Copyright Infringement

Architectural copyright infringement occurs when someone uses, reproduces, or modifies an architect’s original design or work without obtaining proper authorisation or permission.

It involves the unauthorised use of copyrighted architectural plans, drawings, blueprints, or completed structures.

Examples of architectural copyright infringement can include:

Construction without Permission: An architect designs a building for a specific location, taking into consideration various factors such as site conditions, surrounding structures, and zoning regulations.

However, another party constructs a building with a strikingly similar design in the same location without the original architect’s consent, constituting copyright infringement.

Unauthorised Replication: Replicating or copying an architect’s design without permission, resulting in the creation of a similar or identical structure.

Adaptation without Consent: An architect creates a distinctive and copyrighted building design. Another architect or builder makes significant modifications to the design without obtaining permission, infringing on the original architect’s copyright.

Unauthorised Distribution: Reproducing and distributing copyrighted architectural plans, drawings, or blueprints without the architect’s consent.

Unauthorised Commercial Use: An architectural drawing or blueprint created by an architect is protected by copyright.

However, a company or individual uses the drawing for commercial purposes, such as advertising or selling products, without obtaining the necessary permissions or licenses, resulting in copyright infringement.

Architectural copyright infringement can lead to legal consequences, including injunctions, damages, and the requirement to cease infringing activities.

It’s important to note that these examples are for illustrative purposes only, and the determination of copyright infringement in specific cases should be made based on the individual circumstances and applicable copyright laws in the relevant jurisdiction.

Cases Where Court Apply Mischief Rule

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Microfibers Inc. vs Girdhar & Co. & Anr.,

In this case, the application of the mischief rule by the court played a crucial role in resolving the conflict between the Copyright Act and the Design Act.

The court analysed whether the protection of copyright or design laws should extend to the design of artistic works in fabrics.

By applying the mischief rule, the court determined that the primary concern was not the act of copying itself but the larger monopoly claimed by the design proponent despite commercial production.

The court held that if the design is registered under the Design Act, it would lose its copyright protection.

However, if the design is not registered, it would continue to enjoy copyright protection as long as it does not exceed the threshold limit of 50 applications through an industrial process.

Holland L.P. & Anr. vs A.D. Electro Stell Co. Pvt. Ltd.

In this case, the court rejected the contention that drawings are eligible for copyright protection under Section 15(2) of the Copyright Act.

The court stated that such drawings could be registered under the Design Act, and if reproduced by the industrial process more than 50 times, they would lose their copyright protection and fall into the public domain.

The application of the mischief rule in these cases helped clarify the boundaries between copyright and design protection, ensuring a balanced approach to safeguarding the rights of creators while promoting innovation and commercial production.

Key Considerations in Architectural Copyright Infringement

Following are the key points that one should consider to prevent yourself from violation:

Building a Substantial Similarity Structure May Breach Exclusive Rights

Building a similar structure without the owner’s consent may be deemed a breach of their rights.

This means that if someone reproduces or replicates an architectural design without authorisation, it may constitute copyright infringement.

The original creator has the exclusive right to control the reproduction and distribution of their work, including architectural designs.

Alterations to Plans Do Not Guarantee Avoidance of Infringement.

When it comes to architectural works, making minor changes to plans does not guarantee protection against copyright infringement.

Courts use two primary tests to determine if a work accused of infringement is significantly similar to copyrighted work.

The first test, known as the “total look and feel” test, compares the works as a whole to determine their similarity from the perspective of ordinary observers.

Small modifications to a piece of work, even if they don’t significantly affect its overall look and feel, can still violate the copyright owner’s legal protections.

The second test, known as the “filtration” test, filters out unoriginal elements and focuses on the original and protectable portions of the work.

In this context, merely modifying standard functional features like windows or other staple building components will not serve as a defense against a copyright infringement claim.

Therefore, it is essential to understand that minor changes may still lead to potential infringement issues.

Unintentional Infringement is Not a Valid Defense Against Violation

Innocent infringement of copyright is not a valid defense against infringement claims.

Whether the infringement was intentional or not, if the copyrighted work has been used without proper authorisation, the copyright owner may still pursue legal action and seek remedies for the infringement.

The Lack of a Copyright Notice Does Not Provide Immunity from Legal Action for Copyright Violations

The absence of a copyright notice does not necessarily prevent a successful lawsuit for copyright infringement.

While including a copyright notice, such as the symbol ©, the year of publication, and the copyright owner’s name, is generally recommended to inform others about the copyright claim, it is not a requirement for copyright protection.

Copyright is automatically granted to original works upon creation, regardless of whether a notice is present.

Therefore, the absence of a notice does not invalidate the copyright owner’s rights or their ability to take legal action.

Register in Time

Architects and designers should consider timely registering their copyrights to gain enhanced remedies against potential infringers.

Registering the copyright provides legal evidence of ownership and facilitates enforcement of rights.

It allows the copyright owner to seek statutory damages and attorney’s fees in case of infringement.

Registering the copyright early on can help strengthen the case in the event of a dispute and provide greater protection for the architectural designs created by architects and designers.

Conclusion

Copyright protection for architectural drawings plays a crucial role in safeguarding the rights of creators in the field of architecture.

The scope of copyright protection extends to original architectural drawings that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.

It not only provides the creator with exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, and display their works but also grants them moral rights to claim authorship and integrity.

To maintain valid copyright and protect against infringement, architects should consider the timely registration of their works.

While the level of copyright protection may vary depending on the specific circumstances, it is important to understand the significance of copyright law in preserving the integrity and originality of architectural creations and pursuing legal remedies in copyright infringement lawsuits.

FAQs

What is known as copyright in architecture?

Copyright in architecture refers to the legal protection granted to original architectural works.

It gives the creator of an architectural design exclusive rights to reproduce, distribute, display, and modify the work.

Who owns an architectural design?

Generally, the person or entity that creates the architectural design is the initial owner of the copyright.

However, in cases where the design is created as part of an employment agreement or commissioned work, ownership may belong to the employer or the party who commissioned the design.

How do you protect architectural designs?

Architectural designs can be protected by obtaining copyright registration, which provides evidence of ownership and serves as a deterrent against infringement.

What are the rights of architectural design?

The rights of architectural design include the exclusive rights of reproduction, distribution, display, and modification granted to the intellectual property rights owner.

Additionally, moral rights, such as the right to be identified as the author and the right to preserve the integrity of the work, are also inherent in architectural designs.

These rights enable architects to control the use, attribution, and preservation of their creations.

When does copyright infringement occur?

It occurs when a person or entity uses another person’s copyrighted work without permission from the copyright owner.

This includes copying, reproducing, distributing, displaying, or performing the work in any way that is not allowed under the law.

Infringement in architecture can occur when someone copies another architect’s designs without permission and attempts to pass off the copied design as their own.

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