Part 2: Short Questions and Answers about Copyright Infringement

If you are an architect, builder, or contractor, you may run into issues of copyright infringement during your career.  As a followup to our previous introduction to copyrights, here are three important questions about copyright infringement:
How can a copyright be infringed?  Congress passed the Architectural Works Copyright Act in 1990, which provides protection to original designs of architecture in all forms, including plans, drawings, and the buildings themselves.  Therefore, a builder could be liable for copyright infringement if his building itself infringes another’s plans, regardless of whether the plans themselves were copied.  Therefore, you should not attempt to mimic other architectural works.
What constitutes copyright infringement?  A court will determine whether an infringing work is substantially similar to a copyrighted work.  This is determined by the total look or concept and feel, and whether ordinary observers consider them substantially similar.  So even if you make minor changes to a design but the total look remains the same, you may be at risk of infringement.  A copyright owner does not need to prove that you intended to copy his design, he must merely prove that you had access to the copyrighted work and that your work is substantially similar.
What sort of damages is an infringer liable for?  A court may award up to $150,000.00 per infringement, including court costs and attorney fees.