How to copyright a building

by Jane Haskins, Esq.
updated May 11, 2023 ·  2min read

Original building designs created in any tangible medium of expression can receive copyright protection as architectural works.

  • Copyright protection is available for building designs created on or after December 1, 1990. 
  • Copyright protection is also available for unpublished building designs created before December 1, 1990, if the building was constructed after December 1, 1990, but before January 1, 2003. 
  • A building design is “created” when it is first tangibly fixed in any medium, including a drawing, design, model, or constructed building.
  • An architectural copyright is different from a copyright in an architectural blueprint. Blueprints are separately copyrightable as pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.

Types of architecture that can be copyrighted

Copyright protection for architectural works extends only to designs for “buildings.” To be considered a “building,” a structure must be habitable by humans and intended to be permanent and stationery. Copyrightable buildings include the following:

  • Homes
  • Office Buildings
  • Churches
  • Museums
  • Gazebos and garden pavilions

Copyright protection is not available for structures that are not considered “buildings” because they are either not permanent or stationary or not habitable by humans. Noncopyrightable structures include:

  • Bridges
  • Dams
  • Walkways
  • Tents
  • Mobile homes 
  • Recreational vehicles
  • Boats

When does copyright protection begin?

A building is copyrighted as soon as it has been created and fixed in a tangible object such as architectural plans, a model, or a completed building. It does not need to be registered with the copyright office to receive copyright protection.

Rights conferred by copyright

In general, a copyright owner has the exclusive right to make copies of a work, to sell or distribute copies, to prepare derivative works and to publicly display the work. A copyright in an architectural work protects the overall form of a building as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and design elements. Copyright does not protect standard features or design elements that are functionally required, such as doors and windows.

Why should you register a copyright?

There are several advantages to registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, including the following: 

  • Registration creates a record of your copyright ownership.
  • You must register your copyright before you can sue someone for copyright infringement
  • If you register your copyright within three months of publication or before an infringement occurs, you can recover statutory damages and attorneys fees in a copyright infringement lawsuit. Statutory damages are awarded per work infringed and may be greater than the actual damages you are able to prove. 

Registration procedures and deposit requirements

A copyright registration application consists of three parts:

  • A completed application form. This may be submitted to the copyright office online or by mailing a paper application. Online applications cost less and are processed more quickly. 
  • A filing fee for online applications and a separate fee for paper applications.
  • A nonrefundable copy or copies of your work. The copyright office website has details on this requirement, but in general:
  • For all buildings, you must submit architectural drawings or blueprints that show the overall design of the building and any interior arrangements of spaces and design elements for which you are claiming copyright. 
  • If the building has been constructed, you must also submit photographs that clearly show the architectural work that is being registered.

When you're ready to register your copyright, LegalZoom will help you file the paperwork. Just get started by answering some questions about your creative work.

Make sure your work is protected START MY REGISTRATION
Jane Haskins, Esq.

About the Author

Jane Haskins, Esq.

Jane Haskins is a freelance writer who practiced law for 20 years. Jane has litigated a wide variety of business dispute… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.