An appeals court has cleared a Florida builder of copyright violations in the case of a four-bedroom, three-bath house that another builder claimed was built from copy-cat plans, reports JLC's Ted Cushman. Although the decision does not set any legal precedents, the dispute between two production builders raises questions of ownership of an architectural idea.

The case pits Tivoli Homes and Start to Finish Drafting, against Medallion Home, based in Manatee County. Medallion said that Tivoli copied its plans, but the trial court, as well as the appeals court, identified substantial differences between the two designs.

Copyright protection for architectural plans, and for buildings as an expression of the plans, is relatively new in the United States. It dates back to 1989, when the U.S. joined the Berne Convention, an international agreement governing intellectual property. To prove a violation, the plaintiff must establish both "copying in fact" (establish, that is, that the defendant actually copied the work, or at least had sufficient access to the original to be able to copy it) and also that the two works are "substantially similar" (a determination that is somewhat subjective).

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