Copyright in architecture is often misunderstood even by the very same professionals operating in the building industry. Just as copyright applies to literature, music, and works of art, it also applies to architecture and the drawings associated with such. The specific building style and lay-out becomes a signature of the architect. Copying of the designs constitutes copyright infringement and still it occurs on a daily basis. Perhaps more difficult to spot than a blatant replica of a building or design, many buildings feature the same elements brought in by a specific architect without the project managers or designers having obtained the permission from the architect to use such in their designs.
Copyright in architecture pertaining to the design of the building includes any tangible expression of the design whether through the drawings, plans, and form or arrangement of the design elements. What are not included regarding copyright on architecture are the standard design elements which are required because of function. There are buildings which are excluded from the protection granted by copyright in architecture such as dams or bridges.
One shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking just because there is no formal registration process required for copyright that no copyrights exist regarding architectural drawings or designs. The moment the original work takes a tangible form whether on paper or the building itself, copyright exists.
As a rule of thumb, to protect against infringement, architects use the phrase “copyright protected” and the specific year of the work when they make drawings and or designs ensuring protection granted by copyright regarding the architecture. If one wishes to register copyright in architecture it can be done by registering such for the building design and the specifications as technical drawings.