Home builder's plans may enjoy copyright protection

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a custom home designer and builder who brought an action against a competing builder and designer could possibly have a claim in violation of the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act for similar plans. The designs in this case were for Centennial Style Homes in Williamsburg. The City of Williamsburg limits permissible architectural styles.
The Appeals Court noted that the designs of the two builders shared many similarities including a two story rectangular main body, a walk-out basement, gabled roof featuring dormers, single-story wings flanking the main body of the residence and a detached three-car garage connected to the main body of the residence by a covered breezeway. The interior floor plans of the two designs also share similarities including a foyer flanked symmetrically a dining room and a library and a separate "friends" entryway. In addition, both interior plans have a dining room, kitchen and a "keeping room", all configured in the same width.
The Court of Appeals overturned a lower District Court decision which dismissed the suit. The Court of Appeals indicated that the District Court erred by setting out to detect the disparities or engage in an analytical dissection of the protected and unprotected elements of the design. The Court of Appeals said the District Court should have determined whether the ordinary observer - unless he set out to dissect the disparities - would be disposed to overlook them and regard their aesthetic appeal as the same. 

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