MANHATTAN (CN) – Architectural renderings enjoy the same copyright protection as Edward Hopper or Claude Monet’s paintings of houses, the 2nd Circuit ruled, reviving a case that could hold major realtors accountable for infringement.
Scholz Design says it produced drawings of three luxurious, tree-shaded houses, “Springvalley A,” “Wethersfield B,” and “Breckinridge A,” which it registered in the Copyright Office in 1988 and 1989.
Although they were not detailed enough to serve as construction blueprints, the Connecticut-based company Sard Custom Homes used these renderings as a guide to build the homes, according to the court’s summary.
Scholz says that Sard agreed it had no right to copy the images or use them for advertisements.
In October 2010, Scholz filed a lawsuit claiming that Sard broke this contract by sharing the pictures with Prudential Connecticut and Caldwell Banker, which put the images on their websites in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
U.S. District Judge Janet Arterton dismissed the case, finding that an architectural drawing must be able to serve as a blueprint for construction to be protectable.
A three-judge panel at 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously rejected that proposed rule on Wednesday.
“We see no reason why Scholz’s drawings depicting the appearance of houses it had designed should be treated differently from any other pictorial work for copyright purposes,” Judge Robert Sack wrote for the panel. “Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper were famous for their paintings of houses, and Claude Monet for paintings of the Houses of Parliament and of Rouen Cathedral. None of these depictions of buildings were sufficiently detailed to guide construction of the buildings depicted, but that would surely not justify denying them copyright protection. If an exact copy was made by the defendant, as alleged, and as appears to be the case based on the evidence submitted with the complaint, that would appear to constitute infringement.”
The panel chided the federal judge for stepping into the realms of art criticism, quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as saying, “[i]t would be a dangerous undertaking for persons trained only to the law to constitute themselves the final judges of the worth of pictorial illustrations.”
According to the decision, the realtors also contend that they have the right to use the drawings under fair use, which allows for the publication of copyrighted images for news reporting, criticism, scholarship and research.
The appellate court would not consider the issue at this time because the district judge did not factor that defense in her decision.
The case will return to District of Connecticut, and the realtors will have to pay Scholz for the costs of appeal.