Building copyright laws in the United States
Whether plagiarism is intended
A Korean-American architect filed a lawsuit against the architects and contractors of One World Trade Center in a federal court alleging that Manhattan’s One World Trade Center plagiarized his design. One World Trade Center is attracting more attention as it is a new landmark in New York that was completed in 2014 on the site of the 9/11 collapse. Atlanta-based architect Ji-hoon Park, who filed the lawsuit, claims that the design of the One World Trade Center is plagiarism of a work he submitted for his master’s thesis in 1999, which is a clear copyright infringement. Not only the legal community, but also the construction industry are showing great interest in this lawsuit. So today, let’s talk about the building copyright law in the United States, focusing on the parts that many construction workers are curious about.
- Scope of building copyright Building copyright laws in the United States can be divided into pre-1990 and post-1990. That’s because the US Congress enacted legislation in 1990 specifically protecting copyrights in buildings. Before 1990, only design drawings could be protected by copyright. In other words, as long as the blueprints were not copied, there was no problem in building a building with a design similar to other structures. However, since 1990, the scope of building copyright has been extended not only to blueprints, but also to all visible designs.
- Whether plagiarism is intended In a building copyright lawsuit, the plaintiff is not required to prove whether the defendant knowingly plagiarized the design. However, you only need to show how much access the defendant had to the plaintiff’s work and how similar the defendant’s work and the plaintiff’s work were. In the case of One World Trade Center, the plaintiff claims that many of the employees of the defendant company were active as lecturers and professors at the school when they submitted their master’s degree work. If this assertion turns out to be true, it would be very advantageous to the plaintiff.
- Criteria for plagiarism There are two types of tests that U.S. courts apply to determine if a copyright has been infringed. The first kind is the “Total Look and Feel” test. The court that applies this test is based on how similar the overall appearance of the two buildings in question is perceived by ordinary observers. The structures in question to compare them without all accessories such as windows and doors.
- Compensation Amount In building copyright litigation, you can receive statutory damages depending on when the copyrighted work of the plaintiff was registered. In order to receive statutory damages, at least the copyrighted work of the plaintiff must have been registered before the defendant plagiarized. If these conditions are met, the plaintiff will be able to receive damages designated by the court without having to calculate the amount of damage suffered by the plaintiff. Currently, the maximum statutory damages in building copyright lawsuits is $150,000. It is important to keep in mind that statutory damages are calculated per copyright infringement. In other words, if several parts of a building are plagiarized, the amount of statutory damages can increase astronomically. In addition, in some cases, you may be entitled to compensation for not only statutory damages, but also court costs and attorneys’ fees incurred in litigation.
For this reason, it is important for architects to register their drawings or designs with the Copyright Association as soon as possible. Also, if you believe that your drawings or designs have been plagiarized by someone, we recommend that you immediately contact an attorney with extensive experience in building copyright litigation for advice.