Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wants to Publish 100-Year Old Floor Plans

Dear Rich: I own a large collection of early 1900's architectural drawings and photographs of residential homes. Most of these homes were built during the 1920's and some are now owned by famous celebrities. This collection of drawings and photographs was left to me by an architect relative who died more than fifty years ago. I'm working on a book of this architecture and would like to display many of the drawings and photographs of these homes in the book and on the Internet. I believe the architect, or their heir (me, in this case) owns the rights to architectural drawings and ideas but I'm not sure of the legal issues of displaying these images to the public. Could privacy be an issue here even though all the original owners of these mansions are long dead and the homes are no longer owned by that family? Do I have the right to publish room layouts, dimensions and photographs of these homes? Some of the homes have been torn-down so I assume publishing anything about those would be safe but what about those that are still standing and occupied? I'm also concerned about losing the rights to these things if I put them online. Couldn't someone else copy them and claim a copyright for either the architectural idea or the image itself? Do I even own the copyright on these drawings and photographs and architectural ideas just because I own the paper they are printed on?  So many questions, so little time. Here goes: The photos and architectural drawings may be protected under copyright if the author died after 1942 and either (1) the works were never published, or (2) they were published after 1922 and properly renewed. If the works meet these criteria, and you are the heir to the copyright owner’s estate (and can prove it), you can register copyright in your name and stop others from copying the works.
Copyright for architectural works. Architectural drawings were not classified as protectable works until December, 1990.  Prior to that, courts tended to protect architectural blueprints. The extent of protection may depend on how distinctive or elaborate the plans are, but it's likely the works you describe will meet the standards for protection.
Privacy.  We don't believe that publication of architectural drawings would give rise to a successful invasion of privacy claim because the publication doesn’t disclose personal facts, or intrude into personal affairs. Even if we are correct, however, a wealthy homeowner could always still mount a tort claim. You may lower the chances of such a suit by not mentioning the names of the persons presently living at the home.

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