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Hi Bill,

Blueprints and the other materials you have mentioned are indeed subject to copyright protection, as are the resulting buildings. Under the definition of the 1990 Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act, the work that is protectable “includes the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features.” Also, the legislative history states that “the aesthetically pleasing overall shape of a building could be protected.” It should be noted that copyright law does not protect the functional—only the creative—aspects of a work.

Copyright will protect all original works of authorship—for a work to qualify as “original,” it must display a “modicum of creativity” that belongs to the person claiming to be the author of the work. Putting elements together in a new way can qualify—one’s particular expression of an idea is what is protectable and non-infringing. It should be noted, however, that while the bar is low for a work to qualify as original, the protection afforded a minimally creative work is also correspondingly low. Also, because of the largely functional nature of most blueprints or plans, for a blueprint or other technical drawing to be found infringing, it would likely have to be a nearly exact copy of a piece of source material. It will also receive very little copyright protection itself. In other words, the blueprint that results from consultation of several sources can almost certainly be used in turn as a source for someone else’s blueprint.

Sincerely,
LegalZoom Staff

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