Standard form construction contracts between an owner and design profesional will address copyright protection, as well as other contractual protections, associated with a design professional’s “instruments of service.” An owner negotiating an agreement with a design professional should consider alternative language that broadens the scope of the contractual license given to it with respect to the use of the design. Regardless, a design professional’s copyright infringement claim is still a challenging claim to ultimately prevail on. While a design professional may likely survive the motion to dismiss stage in a copyright infringement claim, whether it survives the summary judgment stage is another, more challenging, story.
“To state a claim for copyright infringement a plaintiff [design professional] must assert [and prove the following two prongs]: ‘(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.’” Robert Swedroe Architect Planners, A.I.A., P.A. v. J. Milton & Associates, Inc., 2019 WL 1059836, *3 (S.D.Fla. 2019) quoting Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., Inc., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991).
In the first prong, the design professional must establish it complied with statutory formalities to own a valid copyright. Id.
In the second prong, the design professional must establish that the defendant copied constituent elements that are original. Id.
There is also a claim known as contributory copyright infringement.