Last weekend I was in Oak Park (outside Chicago) for the annual Frank Lloyd Wright house tour. Few people rise to the level of genius in my eyes, but Wright is one who does. What he accomplished also raises an important issue in IP law that I’d like to talk about.
In 1990, Congress passed the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act. Before this, buildings were not copyrightable because they were functional. This meant that anyone who took a picture of a building (like mine of Fallingwater) or produced an artistic work that used the image of a building exterior could do so freely. The only exceptions were that: (1) building interiors are controlled by the property owner (based on trespass); and (2) there might be circumstances where an exterior could be a trademark. Congress evidently concluded in 1990 that giving architects a copyright in their building exteriors was a good idea.