Abstract

Even though our copyright statutes were silent about architecture until 1990, it was well established that plans, blueprints and models were copyrightable writings under the 1909 Act's category of "drawings or plastic works of a scientific or technical character," and then as "pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works" under the 1976 Act. The scope of an architect's copyright protection was, however, quite limited. The unauthorized copying of plans or blueprints constituted infringement, but most authorities concluded that plans were not infringed by using them, without the architect's permission, to construct the building they depicted. Moreover, the prevailing view was that an architect's rights did not extend to the actual building derived from his or her plans. A building, as a useful article, could be protected by copyright only to the extent it had artistic features that could be identified separately from, and were capable of existing independently of, the structure's utilitarian aspects.

The Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act (AWCPA) was passed soon after United States' adherence to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works became effective. Congress, in passing this statute, recognized that expanding protection for architecture would stimulate excellence in design, thereby enriching our public environment in keeping with the constitutional goals. The AWCPA is said to confer full protection to works of architecture by establishing them as a new category of protectable subject matter in Section 102(a)(8) and defining an architectural work as: "the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings. The 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.

This Article discusses variations on casebook authors' questions of whether the protection provided by the AWCPA is needed for mundane architectural works, and whether copyright protection is needed as an incentive for architects. Specifically, it addresses the impact of the AWCPA and considers whether that act has made a significant difference for architects and architecture.