Monday, June 30, 2014

Copyright Infringement Risks When Building Custom Homes

Sometimes it's tempting to purchase a plot of land and build a custom home. However, understanding the risks associated can help you avoid costly mistakes. One risk particularly is called copyright infringement.  Brokers, keep this in mind as you work with clients who are buying to retrofit or develop real estate. 

Copyright infringement on architectural designs has recently been addressed by the Second Circuit United States Court of Appeals on June 5, 2014 in the case James E. Zalewski, Draftics, LTD. v. Cicero Builder Dev., Inc., et al.

Mr. Zalewski is an architect who licensed several builders to use his architectural designs. He claims that these builders infringed on his copyright by customizing his designs and building homes based on his designs without his consent.

Mr. Zalewski points to the vast similarities between his designs and the Defendants’ designs, arguing that these similarities prove that the Defendants knowingly took from his work and infringed on his copyright.
However, the Court explains that copying in itself is not grounds for copyright infringement. Mr. Zalewski must not only prove that his work is copyrighted and that it has been copied, but that it was wrongfully copied as well. The Court held in this case that the Defendants’ designs, although similar, did not wrongfully copy from Mr. Zalewski’s original designs. The designs were for a colonial home and colonial homes can only be arranged in so many ways.

Ruling in favor of the Defendant, Circuit Judge Wesley claimed, “Plaintiff can get no credit for putting a closet in every bedroom, a fireplace in the middle of an exterior wall, and kitchen counters against the kitchen walls. Furthermore, the overall footprint of the house and the size of the rooms are ‘design parameters’ dictated by consumer preferences and the lot the house will occupy, not the architect.”

Based upon this ruling, a builder can use general designs without having to hire an architect.

Nonetheless, builders should always consult with an attorney prior to using a design to ensure that no copyright infringement is occurring.