The Protection of Drawings & Designs Under Copyright Law

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Drawings, designs, illustrations, graphics and even architectural works are protected under copyright law. Although copyright law is aimed at protecting artistic works, it will also protect drawings and designs in a limited manner. Copyright protection only extends to the artistic elements of drawings and designs, so the useful information contained in the designs will not be protected by copyright law.

Architectural Works

Architectural works created on or after Dec. 1, 1990, are protected by copyright law. Designs that were published before this date, designs that were constructed before this date and structures other than buildings are not eligible for protection. Additionally, designs that were created on or after Dec. 1, 1990, but not constructed before Dec. 31, 2002, are not eligible for protection.

Copyright Protection

Copyright protection is extended to any drawing or design as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium such as on paper or on a computer hard drive. As a result, it is not necessary to obtain copyright registration in order for your works to be protected. However, copyright registration provides many benefits such as the ability to assign your work and the ability to sue for court fees, statutory damages and attorney's fees.

Scope of Copyright

Copyright protection provides an author with the exclusive right to distribute the work, make copies of the work, prepare derivative works and perform or display the work in public. For drawings and designs this means that any reproduction of your work without permission can be construed as copyright infringement. If your work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, charges of copyright infringement can lead to statutory damages as high as $150,000 for willful violations.

Useful Information

Copyright protection is aimed at protecting artistic expression. As a result, any technically useful information contained in your design or drawing will not be protected by copyright law. Only the artistic elements of the design or drawing will be protected. If your drawing or design contains any new or useful information you may wish to consider patent law or trade secret law in order to best protect your interests.

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