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Copyright on Architectural Works: Does It Need to Be Changed?

Lawrence C. Maxwell

©2013. Published in Landslide, Vol. 6, No. 1, September/October 2013, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.

Imagine this scenario: You just closed on the sale of that cute three-bedroom house you bought in the late 1990s but are about to outgrow due to the impending birth of triplets right around the third birthday of your first child. You recall how exciting it was to find a contractor’s website with various floor plans you liked and the fun you had making changes to your favorite plan and picking out colors, finishes, fixtures, and hardware. (The Intro to Architecture class you took in college proved to be a lot more interesting than the “friend” who talked you into taking it.) Yes, there is a certain nostalgia for your first house, but life happens, so you and your rapidly expanding family need to move to a bigger place. However, you were able to recapture some of the old fun in the new, larger house that your contractor completed last week by picking out a floor plan and making it “your place” with the selection of colors, moving a few walls, changing the size of the windows, etc. You are very grateful the housing market has rebounded from the real estate doldrums of the late 2000s, giving you a nice profit to apply to the cost of the new house. Then, six weeks later, you receive a registered letter from the attorneys for Famous Houseplans Company (FHC) stating that, three months ago, they came across the floor plan of your house the listing realtor had put on her website, claiming the house you just sold infringes on a copyright owned by FHC, and demanding that you remit a cashier’s check for the amount of profit you made (and already spent) from the sale of the house.

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