How Copyright and Trademark Claims Can Affect a Florida Construction Project
Intellectual property issues are often overlooked when it comes to construction. Yet copyrights and trademarks often play an essential role in Florida construction projects. For instance, architects frequently claim intellectual property rights in the designs they create for project owners and general contractors. So if a design is used or altered without respecting these rights, litigation may quickly follow.
Miami Judge Allows Copyright, DMCA Lawsuit to Proceed Over Modified Building Plans
Take this lawsuit, Kobi Karp Architecture & Interior Design v. Dannwolf, which is currently before a federal judge in Miami. The plaintiff in this case, Kobi Karp, is an architecture firm that was initially hired to design a residential development in Miami-Dade County. After preparing and submitting its designs, Kobi Karp registered its drawings with the U.S. Copyright Office. (Under federal law, registration is not necessary to obtain copyright protection, but it is a necessary step to enforce any rights in court.) Sometime later the project owner, a co-defendant in this case, replaced Kobi Karp with another architecture firm.
The new architecture firm, also a co-defendant, eventually submitted plans to the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board, which needed to approve the project. These plans were “slightly altered versions of Kobi Karp’s copyrighted drawings and bore Kobi Karp’s registered trademarks.” According to Kobi Karp, however, the defendants removed the trademark information before presenting the revised drawings to the Board.
This prompted Kobi Karp to file its lawsuit, alleging copyright and trademark infringement, as well as violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). On July 27, U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr., dismissed the trademark claims, but allowed Kobi Karp to proceed with its allegations regarding copyright and DMCA violations.
With respect to the trademarks, Scola said Kobi Karp failed to explain how the defendants actually used its marks “in commerce.” Submitting drawings to the Board was not itself a commercial activity. That is to say, it had nothing to do with “ the sale or advertising of the Defendants’ services.” Trademarks are designed to protect consumers from the risk of confusion or mislabeling–but in this case, the Board was not a “consumer or potential consumer of architectural services.”
Copyright was a different matter, Scola said. Here, Kobi Karp clearly identified the copyrights, presented its registration documents for those copyrights, and alleged the defendants submitted designs to the Board based on the copyrighted works. This was sufficient to establish a claim for copyright infringement. Furthermore, by allegedly removing copyright information from the submitted drawings, the defendants also arguably violated the DMCA. The defendants insisted the DMCA only applied to “electronic commerce”–i.e., Internet-based activities that infringe copyright–but Scola said he would follow the example of other courts that have “examined the plain language of the statute and approved the DMCA’s application to non-technological contexts.”
Speak with a Florida Construction Lawyer Today
There are many potential legal issues that can arise from any construction project. An experienced Florida construction attorney can provide critical guidance and representation to help you deal with these problems. Contact Linkhorst & Hockin, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.