Copyright Infrigement Issues in Interior Design

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The following case involves a court ruling stating that plans from a development may be used by the owner of the property even if it was not the architects client.() This gave a different architectural firm the right to use the plans designed by the original architecture firm. The facts of this case are as follows; two architecture firms came together as joint venture parties and designed plans for an eight unit development and was paid for designing these plans. Shortly after approval of these plans the relations between these two companies disintegrated and the site was put on sale. These companies put on record in their contract for sale that they were the owner of the copyright plans and that no consent or license would be granted to anyone to use the original plans. In 2003 the land was sold to a different company who wanted to construct a fourteen unit development based on the original plans.

Consent from the original companies to use the plans was denied; but the high court ultimately ruled in the current owner of the land’s favour based on the fact that the original agreement of the land was a joint venture agreement which means it was made available for the purposes to “procure the grant of consent”. This means that the joint venture’s purpose was to purchase the land, obtain consent, build the unit and therefore make a profit. () The high court made this decision based on the fact that the new owner wanted to carry out this same obligation but also ruled that the original companies would receive a share of the net profits of the sale of the units.

The lesson to be learned in this case is that designers and architects must be aware of the fine print of the agreements and contracts they enter into; particularly cases like this where the agreement involves a development application and consent and that the bases of this agreement is to produce a building and profit not copyright drawings. In this case design did not necessarily fall short because of the design of the units but the fact that what these companies had agreed upon did not depend on the copyright of the design of the units but the nature of the agreement which ultimately determined the courts ruling and not that these designs were now going to be used by someone else without the owners consent. Being aware of the nature of your agreement will save your work from being made available to others. What I would suggest as a further improvement is to always ensure no matter what the circumstances are that your work will be protected, this requires you to be up to date with current copyright and architecture laws to ensure you fully understand where you stand and what your rights are in a situation so that you don’t end up having to fight for the rights you signed away in the beginning

Copyright in the interior design and architecture field can be vague and hard to distinguish (). The important question to ask is “what does a copyright of architectural work protect” () Designers depend on copyright law to protect their original works. When a tangible expression of innovation is created the copyright protection shortly follows suit, the problem is that this protection is only of the expression of ideas and not the ideas themselves an example of this is books but not the words, music but not the style and architecture but not the walls doors or ceilings(). Interior designers and architects work are protected as literary works which include design drawings, plans or artistic works such as the building. In order to analyse this case correctly; it’s important to consider two copyright factors, this is the difference between ideas and the expression of ideas and the nature and scope of the particular copyright case. The difficult decision of determining whether their has been a copyright violation or not is that things like walls and halls cannot be copyrighted. Each cases process is different in determining the protection of the designers work.

Before 1990 there was not much copyright protection for interior designers and architects; at that time you could replicate buildings that looked identical to others as long as you didn’t use their actual drawings and plans. When the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act come into place in 1990 this allowed for a greater level of protection and for designers to register their drawings and so forth. This protection does not include “individual standard features or design elements that are functionally required”.

Another important misconception is copyright ownership; this refers to clients who believe that since they paid for the plans they are now the copyright holder which is incorrect; copyright remains with the creator; this line can become blurred in certain cases but for the most part the copyright remains with the designer. Architecture is defined as the “art of designing and constructing buildings”. It is seen as functional as well as artistic. The controversy of architecture derives from the fact that is it the blueprint for habitation and how can such a thing be considered intellectual property or copyright. These structures are now being seen as more than just a utilitarian function but actual works of art; because of this interior design.

The important aspect of copyrights of architectural documents relies on the ownership of documents. By having an ownership clause in your contracts and agreements will protect you from copyright infringements. There are a number of cases where an architect’s drawings were used to complete a project by a different architect when the original project developer transferred the project to a new developer these cases involved the unauthorized use of design documents and ultimately result in court cases.

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Copyright is defined as “intangible rights granted by statute to the author or originator of certain literary or artistic productions, whereby, for a limited period, the exclusive privilege is given to that person to make copies of the same for publication and sale” (). Copyright is therefore a legal device which allows owners to control the reproduction of their work; this is known an intellectual property. Its important to note that there are copyrightable works and non-copyrightable works; in order for you to be able to copyright something you need to prove originality, you cannot copyright an idea or vision this is referred to as idea-expression dichotomy which includes; procedures, processes, systems, methods of operation, concepts, principles, and discoveries. An aspect of copyright very relevant to the interior design and architecture field is the concept of ‘work for hire”. This is where you create work within the scope of your employment in which the employer owns the work or where two parties enter a written agreement designating the creation of work for hire. Copyright infringement can be taken to court for a ruling. It is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, in terms of copyright law this an illegal and costly endeavour.

Design guidelines for interior designers and architects to protect themselves from copyright disputes are as follows; when designing a substantially similar interior or exterior without permission may infringe on the owners copyright’s, making minor changes to plans does not exclude you from copyright infringement, innocent infringement is not a copyright defence, copyright infringement carries enhanced risks such as court costs and attorney fees, architects and designers should register their work to avoid copyrighting occurring, ensure the copyrights of any plans given to you by others, the original designer remains the owner of the copyright even if the contractor or owner paid for the design.

Design principles are “widely applicable laws, guidelines, biases and design considerations”. These are important to follow to achieve pleasurable designs; being able to follow the guidelines effectively reflects on your experience and professionalism as a designer. Because a lot of these guideline are not hard laws adaptability is required depending on the work and client, examples of this are; maintaining consistent standards, don’t use jargon, good first impressions, be trustworthy and credible, emotional but professional engagement, keep clients informed and make systems and work flexible.

Other important design guidelines and principals have been set out by designer Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer who is well known for his association with the company Braun. He believed in “less is better” () and generated ten design principals of good design based on that; these principals show how guidelines can be universal but also specific to the designer. A quick clip from the Dieter Rams documentary outlines these principals; Good design is innovative, makes a product useful, is aesthetically pleasing, is understandable and unobtrusive, is honest, long lasting, thorough down to the last detail, environmentally friendly and as little design as possible.

The south African design act is amended by the intellectual property laws act and stipulates laws and regulations for all registered designs to be protected from copyright; this includes new and old designs, how to register your design, refusals of applications, abuse of these rights, duration of registration, restoration of lapsed registration, joint ownership of registered design, grounds for application, registration of more than one design, voluntary surrender of registration, proceedings for infringement, certification of validity and so on. Designers should be well equated with this act to be fully aware of their rights and how to copyright their designs.

The intellectual property of interior design is seen as a concept of controversy because if you can design a concept on paper, assemble the materials and produce it in reality why should you not be able to protect it. The issue comes in, in that there is no legal definition of what constitutes as interior design. There was a recent dispute between Apple and the trademark office as they wanted to trademark their store design; Apple was denied this request and when it went to court it was determined that if the layout of the retail store differed significantly from the norm of the economic sector concerned it could constitute a trademark and therefore be copyrighted (). Apple was able to secure its retail design trademark on an internal level. The copyright act states that in relation to artistic work copying includes “making a copy in three dimensions of a two-dimensional work and the making of a copy in two dimensions of a three-dimensional work.”

So when an individual draws up a design for a space that is defined as a two-dimensional work of art that will be turned into a he three-dimensional reality. The design should then qualify as copyright under the Act. The arguments against this are that this can be seen as a broad interpretation; decorating of a space and filing it with ornaments and furnishings is hard to interoperate and justify as copywriting as this is technically not a variety of components making one entity or product. The further argument is that you cannot copyright a couch or lamp as this is seen as a useful product but you could copyright the fabric or design thereof, but if you cannot copyright the individual items then you cannot copyright the entire space. The argument of inspiration or just plain copying requires a judge or you as the designer to consider aspects of the case such as the nature of the modifications made and their importance, the circumstances the modifications were made under.

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