Elvi Tuisk: there is a price for ignoring an architect's copyright

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Elvi Tuisk: there is a price for ignoring an architect's copyright

Works created by architects are protected and their modification or use requires the consent of the author. In practice, however, copyrights and obligations related to buildings are more difficult to place under general rules than, for example, in the visual arts. However, many violations do not result from the complexity of the law, but primarily from not being aware of or ignoring the rights of architects, writes attorney Elvi Tuisk of the law firm RASK.

What makes an architect an author is his creative contribution to the created object - if an architect designs an object by making free and creative choices, he automatically has the copyright to his work. This means that the buildings, interior designs and landscapes created by the architect are protected by copyright and the architect has the right to decide on their use and modification.

Use of the work includes, for example, making copies, distribution or disclosure, as well as modification of the work. In practice, this can mean realizing the same architectural coolness, making additions to the building or simply repainting it, as well as photographing the house and distributing the photo later.

As a general rule, any use of the work requires the consent of the author, except for certain exceptions of free use arising from the law. For example, without the author's consent, the work may be used in the press for coverage of daily events and real estate advertisements. But even then, you must always add the author's name, the title of the work and the source of publication, only the author's name is sufficient in the real estate advertisement. In practice, however, this information often fails to indicate what constitutes copyright infringement.

The architect's consent as a prerequisite for any change

Not being aware of or knowingly infringing on architects' copyrights can have serious consequences. For example, when rebuilding a building without the prior consent of the author, the architect may demand that the building be restored to its original form. This means that, for example, building an additional floor while ignoring copyright may result in the obligation to demolish it.

If a real estate developer knowingly decides to use the architect's architectural solution without the consent of the architect and makes a profit from it, the architect can file a claim for unjust enrichment against him. This may lead to the release of the proceeds of the infringement from the developer to the architect. In other words, copyright is not a formality, the violation of which passes without consequence. It is a matter of copyright, which is important to observe.

In order to avoid later inconveniences or even disputes, it would be wise to consider that if someone orders a building project from an architect, they should think through possible future changes together with the architect and immediately agree on them in writing. Copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author and for another 70 years after his death. Of course, during this time there may be a need, for example, to repaint the building or change the garden, the desire to add new fruit trees to the yard or a playground. If such agreements are included in the contract, no separate consent is required for later modification. However, if something is planned that is not covered by the original agreement, the architect's consent must be sought. It should also be taken into account that the architect may ask for a royalty for the use of his work, which may be in addition to the original salary.

Understandably, the topic of copyright is very broad and multifaceted and raises many questions. If so far in our society, all this has often been looked down upon, but as society matures, it has become more and more important to be aware of the existence of architects' copyrights. For example, every building owner must understand that ownership does not automatically give unlimited rights to change it. Along with the owner's property rights, the architect's copyrights also exist.

The discussion held at the beginning of the year as part of the conversation series (H)ARUTUS of the Estonian Museum of Architecture showed that the field of architects' copyrights needs further development. Architect Margit Mutso, architect Illimar Truuverk, interior architect Ville Lausmäe and lawyer Elvi Tuisk took part in the conversation. The discussion can be watched here.