Urban Art Museum

© Architecture Copyright Infringement

Disney World in Orlando, Florida is for many reasons worthy of architectural study. While walking through the parks one can study how the environment has been designed to handle large masses of people and apply these principles to plaza or park designs.  One could also study how the signage has been designed to communicate to anyone regardless of the language they speak, and apply these principles to way-finding design in hospitals.  Or one could simply appreciate the reality of fantasy that Disney has managed to create, which after all is very similar to the reality that we as architects attempt to create every single day. Although in many cases Disney serves as a great example of how high design can be used to create a positive experience for its users, unfortunately Disney is also a great example of a growing trend that is an ethical concern in architectural design, copyright infringement.

During my last visit to Disney Hollywood Studios I was walking to my car when I glanced back towards the entrance to the park, and felt as if I was looking at an old friend and had forgotten his name. It was one of those feelings you get when you look at a building and know that you should know the name of the building, or sense that it was designed by a talented architect. Later on that weekend I was flipping through my copy of Modern Architecture A-Z and solved the mystery of who designed the entrance to Disney Hollywood Studios.  The entrance to Disney Hollywood Studios is nearly an exact copy of the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, which was completed in 1935, and designed by Wurdeman & Bechet.  Disney refers to it as a full-scale, stylized replica, but let’s just call it what it is, a copy. I have listed a photograph of the Disney Hollywood Studios entrance below that I took that day, and a photograph of the Pan Pacific Auditorium building which can be found on page 67 of Modern Architecture A-Z.

I began to think about what would happen if I were to create a full-scale, stylized replica of some of Disney’s merchandise or characters and posted them for sale on this website.  I figure that the conversation would be something similar to the below:

Disney Attorney: “Remove that content from your website Mr. Cornetet and give us all the money you made from selling your bootleg merchandise, close down your website, give us your first born and you’re never allowed to watch another Disney movie, ever!”

Me: “I’m sorry sir, there has been some confusion, I am selling full-scale, stylized replica Mickey Mouse ears, I hope that clears everything up, and are we talking about all Disney movies or just the animated ones?”

Disney Attorney: “All of them.”

That was fun, but you know what is more fun, stealing ideas.  Unfortunately architectural copyright infringement goes virtually unpunished, and people are making a lot of money off of these stolen ideas.  Architects and designers everywhere are getting the shaft and not earning royalties that they have justifiably earned.  Every time you hear a musician on the radio, they are getting paid for the use of their song, which leads me to another kind of architectural copyright infringement that is becoming more common.  Why is it that the creative works of musicians can be used in commercials to sell cars only if you pay them royalties, but when famous works of architecture are used to sell cars, and as far as I know, the architects do not receive any compensation for the use of their work.   Now let’s run through another scenario, what would happen if I took a song re-recorded it with somebody else and tried to sell it, again, a big no-no, but companies like Disney are free to take the ideas of architects and copy them.  The insulting part is that they do not hide the fact, they insult us by saying ‘oh, its a replica’.  The ethical thing to do would be to pay the architects of the Pan Pacific Auditorium or their heirs, royalties on their design.

I am already angry, and I have so much more to write about, so let us move onto the specifics of architectural copyright infringement.  Unfortunately most architects know nothing about the laws that protect their work, and it is this lack of knowledge that is perhaps the key reason that architects say ‘hey that is pretty cool, my building is in a commercial’, instead of calling their lawyer and asking ‘where is my damn movie check.’

Much of what I am about to discuss is information which is supported by research I have completed at the U.S. Copyright Office website, which is the definitive source on the topic.  The rest of the information is in reference to an article Architecture & Copyright Law by Gallagher & Dawsey Co., LPA.  I would like to now point out that I am not a legal expert and that I am barely competent enough to write this blog, so don’t get mad at me if you follow my advice and the sky falls. I would also like to point out that I am neither endorsing the U.S. government nor Gallagher & Dawsey Co., LPA, but am noting these sources in order to give my argument some credibility.

An argument that we frequently have at HKS is in regards to when does copyright protection exist?  The Mr. and Mrs. Bosses of my office want to put the © copyright symbol on every damn piece of paper that exist, and if something is printed without it, they want it reprinted with it.  This is the old school way of thinking, which has since been revised.  In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act of 1990, which protects architects from unauthorized uses of their protected design(s).  The fact is that after 1990, copyright protection is enabled as soon as an original work is created. The use of the copyright symbol is optional and is generally used to convey three pieces of information: 1. identifies the work as being copyrighted 2. identifies the copyright owner 3. shows the first year of publication. Use of the copyright symbol only has one advantage and that is that defendant’s cannot use a defense based on innocent infringement.

The easy thing to do is to use the copyright symbol on all creative material, and I have considered attempting to hide a copyright symbol somewhere on the buildings that I design.  In order to guaranteed maximum protection from having your designs copied by other architects, your projects should be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office for the low cost of $30.00.  Gallagher & Dawsey state in their article:

“Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works; including architectural works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Copyright protection affords the creator the right to control the display, publication, reproduction and creation of derivative works.”

The above is very clear in its intent and does not apply to only exact copies, but protects architects from copying the overall form, composition or arrangement of spaces, which would certainly apply to Disney’s Pan Pacific Auditorium replica.  The Pan Pacific Auditorium was designed in 1935 and that is pretty old, so copyright laws probably don’t apply.  Wrong!  Copyright protection exists for the life of the creator and seventy years after his/her death.  Even if Gallagher & Dawsey and their designers all died in 1935 that would still mean that Disney is guilty of architectural copyright infringement, being that the Disney Hollywood Studios entrance was constructed before 2005.  Fortunately for Disney they are not guilty of breaking the law, because the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act of 1990 does not apply to buildings built before December 1, 1990, and only protects buildings constructed after the act was signed into law.  This hardly seems fair.  I believe that the law should not be retroactive and that if previous architectural works were copied or replicated before December 1, 2009, even though it is ethically wrong, these people should legally not be prosecuted for their ethical crimes.  Although Disney is not legally guilty of such a crime, we must ask ourselves is ethical to copy the works of others?, even if it is legal.  With the passage of this act, the government IS protecting architecture built after 1990, but has essentially made it legal for architects and owners to copy works prior to 1990.  This seems ridiculous and should be the primary concern of lobbyist groups such as the AIA.  Why are other industries getting paid royalties for their creative works, while as architects we get beat down by the man?

I would like to start a master list of articles on architectural copyright infringement.  If you have any resources that you would like to contribute, please e-mail myself and I will add them to this list:

Architectural Copycats written by Betsy Schiffman for publication in Forbes.

Copyright Issues In Architecture written by Manuel R. Valcarcel IV for publication in Southeast Real Estate Business.