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August 28, 2005
Architecture and Copyright: Order Without Law?
The New York Times runs an interesting piece on copying in architecture, Hi, Gorgeous. Haven't I Seen You Somewhere?
While the article takes its cue from a recent lawsuit by an architecture student against the designer of the Freedom Tower, it calls that suit an anomaly. (See the Patry Copyright Blog for more on Shine v. Childs.) Most architects, apparently, don't sue, even when they see their work echoed by others.
Are architects just nicer than other copyright holders? Unlikely.
More probably, they've found alternatives to the legal protections copyright gives. Like artists everywhere, they copy from the masters. They also have other ways of protecting their authorship interests: Architecture clients need full buildings designed, not just pictures of facades; architects can complain publicly about others who fail to give credit for inspiration, lowering the reputation of someone who copyright law might say has only used an unprotectible idea [see Ellickson]; and the great designers aren't just re-selling their last-years' designs in any event.
As Elizabeth Diller of Diller, Scofidio & Renfro put it, "The only way to avert the problem of plagiarism is to be a moving target. If your work is copied and that upsets you, it means you waited too long to move on." That's a motto more industries should heed.
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