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November 2015

Gordon & Rees Team Deconstructs Copyright Infringement Claims by Architect on Partial Summary Judgment

On October 29, 2015, the Central District of California granted a defense motion by Gordon & Rees for partial summary judgment in a significant architectural copyright case, rejecting as a matter of law plaintiff’s claim that construction of a major addition to a major Southern California hospital constituted copyright infringement under the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act of 1990.

Plaintiff, the architect for an earlier hospital project, argued that infringement occurred when the hospital and its new architect allegedly copied the design of certain operating rooms (ORs) without prior permission. A Gordon & Rees litigation team of partner Richard Sybert, Senior Counsels A. Louis Dorny, Holly Heffner, and Hazel Pangan, and associates Amanda Abeln and Justin Aida, argued that plaintiff’s registered copyright in the design of the earlier ORs was invalid as a matter of law, as they consisted entirely of unprotectable elements and design choices dictated by functionality, efficiency, consumer preference, building codes, pre-existing building conditions, industry standards, or a combination of these requirements.

Plaintiff claimed that “his” OR designs – which Gordon & Rees pointed out was the result of a “team” effort including nurses and doctors, and built on then-current OR design around the world – contained a “modicum” of creativity which exceed the requirements of the Copyright Act. The Honorable Dolly M. Gee disagreed, issuing a 26-page ruling adopting the arguments in Gordon & Rees’ motion. In a further major blow to the plaintiff, Judge Gee also adopted the defense argument that the measure of damages for any infringing works was limited to the fair market value of the architectural plans, and was not tied to the hospital’s profits.

Trial on the remaining issues remains set for December 8, 2015. The defendant architect is separately represented in the action, and also obtained a favorable ruling on partial summary judgment, largely mirroring the moving papers filed by Gordon & Rees.

A. Louis Dorny
Holly L. K. Heffner
Hazel Mae B. Pangan
Richard P. Sybert