Tenth Circuit rejects architectural copyright infringement claim

In Savant Homes, Inc. v. Collins, the Tenth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defense on a homebuilder’s claim that the defendants built two homes based on its copyrighted architectural design.

The design, called the Anders Plan, consists of “a ranch house with two bedrooms on one side and a master suite on the other, separated by a combined family room, dining room, and kitchen.” The defendants (and their contractor) toured an Anders Plan home and obtained a brochure about it, and later built two homes with similar features.

The district court granted summary judgment because the plaintiff failed to show that the Anders Plan had any protectable content. The plaintiff’s expert offered testimony that the designs were similar, but did not offer any testimony that the Anders Plan contained original elements. The defense expert, on the other hand, provided uncontested evidence that the Anders Plan’s features were quite common, and therefore not protectable.

Judge Scott Matheson’s opinion affirmed the trial court’s findings, noting that while the Copyright Act protects architectural works, the “individual standard elements” are not protected, but only the “original selections or arrangements of such elements.” And because the plaintiff failed to prove that the Anders Plan contained such “original selections or arrangements,” the trial court properly granted summary judgment.

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