Friday, December 26, 2008

Copyrights in Floor Plans are "Thin": Summary Judgment Granted

Intervest Construction, Inc. v. Canterbury Estate Homes, Inc., --- F.3d ---, 2008 WL 5274274 (11th Cir. December 22, 2008). The Eleventh Circuit considered a copyright infringement case involving two similar floor plans for a four-bedroom homes. The district court judge granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant. On appeal, the appellant argued that the lower court had inappropriately focused on the dissimilarities between the two floor plans and had not properly analyzed the similarities.

The Eleventh Circuit that architectural works such as floor plans are necessarily compilations of many standard elements, such as"common windows and other staple building components." Thus, what is protectible is an architect's arrangement of such standard features. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's Feist decision, the court found the author's copyright in such a compilation to be "thin" and limited to the selection and arrangements of non-copyrightable elements. Thus, a "narrow analysis" of only the original arrangement is appropriate. In such a case, where there is a "substantial dissimilarity" of the potentially protectable elements, summary judgment is appropriate.

The Eleventh Circuit found that the district court appropriately did not consider the similarities in the plans which related mainly to such standard features, and instead properly analyzed the arrangement of such features, which was the potentially protected copyrightable contribution of the architect. Agreeing with the district court that "no reasonable, properly instructed jury could find the works substantially similar", the Eleventh Circuit affirmed.

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