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Will protecting copyrights get easier for architects?

On Behalf of | Oct 7, 2022 | intellectual property & trade secrets

Like any creative business, architects rely on their intellectual property. Their designs are at the center of their work. For example, as we discussed in a previous post, many architects nowadays focus on creating new ways for their building designs to be environmentally friendly and sustainable.

However, nearly every form of intellectual property faces the risk of theft or infringement in the business world. Architects face unique challenges with their copyrights – as well as risks.

Copyright issues in the architecture world

One of the biggest issues, of course, is that there are many aspects of building designs that architects cannot protect by copyright. This is simply because various details are fundamental in the construction of every building. One person cannot own the rights to such a common design.

Even so, there are several elements of a design architects can copyright. These include:

  • Drawings
  • Site plans
  • Certain elements of designs, such as a new sustainable design

Additionally, architects own their original designs. However, ownership often comes into question. Owners of the building – or the party who commissioned the building – may believe they have ownership rights. Architects must ensure they proactively address ownership in their initial agreements to avoid disputes as well as the risk of infringement.

Yet, another issue remains. Many architectural designs are easily accessible to the public through online public records. What about other parties who may access records and attempt to use copyrighted material?

California law aims to improve copyright protections

Regarding access to designs, a new law could change the game for California architects. The state lawmakers passed a bill that will restrict the public’s ability to access copyrighted architectural drawings beginning January 2023. This new law will hopefully help to increase protections for the innovative designs that architects work so hard to create – and essentially depend on to establish business.

We may not see the impacts of this law until next year. In the meantime, and even when this law takes effect, architectural firms should still ensure they take critical steps now to monitor and secure their intellectual property rights.