Sunday, November 11, 2007

Can you copyright the exterior of a building? (No)

I'm not entirely certain what brought this up, but judging from some of the sidebars on this website, it was quite an interesting debate. In Chicago, there's an area called Marina Towers, because of two rather large condominium towers located there, in a rather unique round design. Supposedly these are very photogenic, and possibly iconic images of Chicago. (I've never lived there, so I can't really say.) Apparently, the Marina Towers Condominium Association wanted to try and copyright the image of their towers - basically preventing anyone from photographing, drawing, or reproducing images of the buildings in any way, shape, or form. Well, the substance of this post, is that you can't do that.

As cited on the linked to article,

"The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs, or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.

– United States Code, Title 17, Section 102(a) "

My interpretation is that if you can reasonably see it, you can take a picture of it.
It its easily publicly visible, then you can't be prevented from photographing the structure.

Just because you tan take a photograph of it doesn't mean you can go totally nuts however. If you trespass on private land A to take a photo of building B, you're still trespassing on private land A. It doesn't matter that building B is the tallest thing in town, and can be seen for miles around. You can take a photo of Building B, as long as you have premission and access to where you're taking the photo from.

I know that this isn't exactly the most interesting art-related thing around, but it is important, and it has been something I've been wondering about for a while, being primarily an urban photographer (at least for the moment ;) ). Now I can go out and snap away without worry.

To read more about it, check out the full story of the condo association, and their attempts to copyright their own building, which they legally can't do, and see some examples of why the idea is foolish, and read the page that inspired and was cited in this post,

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