Court Finds No ‘Substantial Similarity’ Between 2 High-Rise Buildings; Shared Elements Considered Standard Features

 Author: Brian R. Westley

Two high-rise residential buildings that allegedly share various features such as dual elevator cores and a barbell-shaped floorplan are not extrinsically similar, a district court ruled, granting summary judgment for defendants on the issue of copyright infringement.

In Humphreys & Partners Architects, L.P. v. Lessard Design, Inc., plaintiff alleged that defendants’ 19-story apartment building known as “Two Park Crest” infringed plaintiff’s 27-floor condominium building known as “Grant Park.” No. 13-cv-433, 2014 WL 4365353 (E.D. Va. Sept. 2, 2014). Besides being high-rises, plaintiff alleged both buildings included two elevator cores connected by a fire or service corridor; a barbell-shaped floor plan thicker on the ends and thinner in the middle; corner units with diagonal entry access; and projecting elements at the cornice of the roof line.

Because there was no direct evidence of copying, the court looked to whether defendants’ work was substantially similar to plaintiff’s original material. To show substantial similarity, plaintiff had to show that both buildings were: (1) extrinsically similar because they contained substantially similar ideas subject to copyright protection, and (2) intrinsically similar in the sense that they expressed those ideas in a substantially similar manner from the perspective of the intended audience.

For the extrinsic prong, the court explained that the buildings’ elements must first be disaggregated to determine whether each individual element is protectable. Then, if necessary, the court must determine whether the overall arrangement of those elements warrants copyright protection.

The court found that none of the elements asserted by plaintiff against defendant was individually protectable because each was a standard feature. Further, even assuming the overall arrangement of those elements was protectable, the buildings were no more similar “than any two randomly selected high-rise multi-family projects would be based on building code regulations and industry standard practices.” It is not unusual, the court explained, for buildings to have multiple elevator cores connected by a fire or service corridor. In addition, a barbell-shaped floor plan is standard and driven by functional considerations. Because there was no extrinsic similarity, the court did not decide the issue of intrinsic similarity. Finnegan represented Defendants.

 

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