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Protecting Your Designs: Using Legends and Title Blocks to Protect Your Work Product

Protecting Your Designs:
Using Legends and Title Blocks to Protect Your Work Product

Architects traditionally have utilized registration processes under the Copyright Act of 1976 to protect their designs from infringement and other unauthorized uses. Statutory damages for violating a registered copyright under the 1976 act generally are capped at $150,000.00 for willful infringement. If would be infringers use an Architect’s copyrighted design materials and remove any legends or title blocks the Architect included on the materials, however, an architect may be entitled to recovery of damages permitted under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DCMA”).  This article briefly addresses the importance of including legends, title blocks, and other copyright management information on design documents and the potential liability for replicating such design documents without including those markings.

Copyright Management Information

The DMCA was adopted in 1998 and was designed to implement copyright protection and reforms in the digital medium. The Act states that “no person shall, without the authority of the copyright owner or the law [(1)] intentionally remove or alter   any copyright management information.” So, what is copyright management information? Under the text of DMCA, copyright management information includes the name and information about the author, identifying numbers or symbols, and information set forth in a notice of copyright.

If this information is included on design documents, and a subsequent user of the documents intentionally removes or alter that copyright management information in violation of DMCA, they could be subjected to statutory damages up to $2,500 “per act of circumvention.”

Potential Impacts of Violating DMCA

Consequences of for altering or removing copyright management information are shown in Preston Wood & Assocs., LLC v. RZ Enters. USA, a case decided by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. This case was brought by a design firm against a developer and the developer’s architect seeking to recover damages allegedly incurred for breaches of DMCA by the use of the design firm’s work product in marketing materials for a project having removed the title block reference to the design firm. Evidence presented at the trial demonstrated that the developer used design firm’s work product after removing legends and notices with the design professional’s name in marketing materials. Specifically, the design firm established that its work product was distributed without attribution via email to between 8,000 and 15,000 recipients. The jury found that 11,516 violations of DMCA occurred and trial court entered a judgment against the defendants including the developer and the developer’s architect in the amount in excess of $28,000,000.00.

While the case will likely be appealed, prudent architects should also be cautioned about replicating copyrighted material without including legends and title blocks of other designers given the potential consequences of such actions.

Courtesy of Cooper Littlejohn, Esq., a lawyer with Lee/Shoemaker PLLC, a law firm devoted to the representation of design professionals in all facets of their business. Lee/Shoemaker PLLC is an Allied Member of AIA Potomac Valley.

This article is intended to provide general legal advice and should not be relied on for specific situations. Consult your attorney for specific legal advice applicable to your situation.

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