Humphreys & Partners Architects, L.P. v. Lessard Design, Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: Intellectual Property Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: 09-02-2014
  • Case #: No. 1:13–cv–433
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: United States District Court, E.D. Virginia
  • LexisNexis Citation: 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124305
  • Westlaw Citation: 2014 WL 4365353
  • Full Text Opinion

When comparing two architectural works for substantial similarity, the two prong extrinsic/intrinsic test applies.

Opinion (Ellis): Plaintiff Humphreys & Partners Architects, L.P. is an architectural firm. Among other named defendants, Defendant Lessard Design, Inc. is a building contractor. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant's high-rise apartment in McLean, Virginia ("Two Park Crest") infringes on Plaintiff's building in Minneapolis, Minnesota building ("Grant Park"). Plaintiff based their claim on the similarity between the two buildings; the fact that a Lessard employee was present during a presentation that included images of the copyrighted design; and that the copyrighted design was emailed to Defendant during the Two Park Crest bidding process. To prevail on an infringement claim, a plaintiff must show that it had a valid copyright and that the defendant infringed on the copyrighted elements of the design. To show Defendant infringed on the assumedly valid copyright, the plaintiff may show infringement by direct evidence of copying, or circumstantially by showing that the infringing work is "substantially similar" to the protected material. The 4th Circuit has specifically adopted a two prong test for determining "substantial similarity" in architectural cases known as the "extrinsic/intrinsic test". The extrinsic prong is an objective standard relating to the ideas of the work, while the intrinsic prong is a subjective standard relating to the similarity in aesthetic appeal in the eyes of the intended audience. The extrinsic prong requires that the ideas constituting the work be broken into individual elements, each of which are capable of copyright protection. Alternatively, the individual elements are reassembled to see if the overall arrangement of the work is capable of copyright protection. The court found that the individual elements were neither capable of protection nor similar to the defendant's elements. Additionally, the arrangement of the elements was so restricted by building codes that it could not said to be capable of protection. Plaintiff's allegations therefore failed to pass the extrinsic prong of the extrinsic/intrinsic test for similarity. Defendant's motion for Summary judgment was GRANTED on the issue of copyright infringement.

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