Wednesday 22 May 2013

Building models for architectural infringement in Houston homes

Of course I used a set square!
Although when I have taught copyright law, I have always mentioned architecture and the fact that architectural designs, drawings and blueprints can be protected in British law as a artistic work, I rarely see any relevant case law. In fact my trusted copy of Cornish has just five lines on the subsistence of copyright architectural works and models. But now comes news that a federal District Court in the USA has awarded $1.3 million to a Texas design firm in an architectural copyright case, finding that Houston-based Hewlett Custom Home Designs, Inc. had a valid claim against Frontier Custom Builders, Inc. in federal law. The jury in the U.S. District Court in Houston found that Frontier had infringed Hewlett's copyrights in designing, constructing and marketing 19 houses, and Frontier's owner, Ronald Wayne Bopp, was also held personally liable for Frontier's activities.

The damages were based on the  profits Frontier had earned from the sales of houses and the court also ordered the destruction of infringing materials in Frontier's possession. Shane Hewlett, the principal of Hewlett Custom Home Design Inc., said, "I am extremely gratified that the jury vindicated our position and acted to help protect our intellectual property and the designs we proudly provide to clients."

Louis Bonham of Osha Liang LLP, who acted for Hewlett, said "Misappropriation of copyrighted building designs is a serious problem in the homebuilding industry and has been for many years. I hope the jury's message will be heard by those in the industry who do not take this issue seriously." 

Reports say that this is the second seven-figure judgment in an architectural copyright case entered by a Houston federal court. In 2012, the court awarded $3.2 million to an Austin architecture firm, Kipp Flores Architects, in a similar case against Hallmark Design Homes. Kipp had previously secured a third multi million dollar award back in 2001, in Norfolk Va.

Hewlett Custom Home Design, Inc. v. Frontier Custom Builders, Inc. and Ronald W. Bopp  Case 4:10-cv-04837; U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

and the CopyKat found this news story in the Sacramento Bee here

More on the subsistence of copyright in architectural works, drawings, plans, designs and models here

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