The Complex case of Architectural Copyright | Via
When an eminent jurist asks, “What does a copyright of an architectural work truly protect?” you may be certain the question is not rhetorical. The U.S. Copyright Act does provide protection from infringement for architectural works, but it does so in terms so ambiguous that a judge might wonder, as did federal district court judge James Lawrence King in a case he decided earlier this year, whether broadly applicable standards for determining infringement even exist. Finding “the usual analysis … too vague and the language misleading,” King blazed a trail of his own in Sieger Suarez Architectural Partnership v. Arquitectonica International Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19140, proposing detailed guideposts for future courts to follow.
Sieger Suarez involved two Miami architectural firms and a 43-story condominium tower nearing completion in suburban Sunny Isles. The Sieger Suarez firm was engaged in 2000 by the project’s first owner. When the project, now known as Regalia, changed hands, the new owners dropped Sieger Suarez and engaged Arquitectonica in 2006. This is a scenario made familiar in scores of disputes involving allegations of infringement of architectural works.
Befitting a beachfront property with floor-through units starting at $7 million, both designs present dramatic, undulating exteriors. “When facing any of the buildings’ four sides,” King wrote in his opinion, “the façades create the impression of a wave rippling horizontally across the sides of the buildings.” Further, in cross-section, both buildings reveal what King described as a “flower shape,” “a stylized rectangle, with gently rounded corners and an outward bulge more-or-less in the center of each of the four sides.” Should this flower shape, combined with the wavelike exteriors, have been enough to sustain Sieger Suarez’s claim of infringement against its competitor and the property’s owners?