Bill Protecting Architects’ Copyright is Signed into California Law

State Senator Brian Jones Carried SB1214 Bill initiated by AIA California Member Cary Bernstein, AIA

(Sacramento, CA) The American Institute of Architects California (AIA California) is pleased to announce the passage and signing of California legislation the organization sponsored that protects the copyright of architectural drawings submitted to local government planning departments.

SB1214 (Jones) helps stop local governments from violating federal law by limiting the type of information prepared by architects that local planning departments can make available to the public in a copyable format. This limit is put into place to protect the intellectual property rights of architects as protected by the Federal Copyright Act. SB 1214 goes into effect January 1, 2023.

“The law balances California’s Ralph M. Brown act which ensures the public’s right ‘to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies’ with long-standing federal copyright laws that protect architectural drawings,” notes Cary Bernstein, AIA, the AIA California member who initiated the bill.

With the advent of electronic permit filing, some planning departments have posted architectural drawings online, in the spirit of government transparency, but with the effect of providing global access to architectural drawings in ways they can easily be downloaded and copied without the designer’s knowledge or consent, a violation of the federal Copyright.

The bill allows for site plans and massing diagrams to be provided to the public digitally or on paper: these drawings provide members of the public with primarily quantitative information such as the distance between buildings, setbacks distances, location of parking lots, property lines, landscaped areas, and a three-dimensional form of buildings that describe the general profile, bulk, and size but limits the exposure of design expression which is the primary concern of copyright protection.

Non-digital, printed plans will remain accessible to the public on the premises of the planning agency and during hearings of the planning agency or legislative body.

Bernstein began working on what would become SB1214 when a colleague let her know that they had downloaded an application she had filed for a “complicated entitlement approval” from a city’s planning department’s website. “It was a compliment,” she says, “but it also initiated questions for me about why my drawings were available online and could be copied by anyone at any time.”

She began researching state management of federal copyright laws in 2019.

“I happen to love law and this issue allowed me to indulge my interest through a project for AIACA,” says Bernstein. When “it became clear that a state-level response was warranted” she brought the issue and a draft remedy for it to the AIA California Advocacy Advisory Committee of which she is a member. California State Senator Brian Jones subsequently agreed to carry the bill.

Bernstein also credits attorney Steven Weinberg of Holmes Weinberg, PC, who was a co-author of the 1990 amendment to federal architectural copyright law known as the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act for the advice he provided during early stages. “There are few people more first-source than Steven and he was gracious with his time and counsel,” she notes.

Bernstein worked with the AIA California’s Advocacy Advisory Committee, the AIA California Vice President of Government Relations Robert Ooley, FAIA, and AIA California staff and consultants during the roughly two-year process.

“SB 1214 is reflective of two major tenets,” says AIA California Executive Vice President Nicki Dennis Stephens, Hon. AIA, “The equivalence of an architect’s work with other fields such as art and music, and the capabilities of the individual to make a change. The AIA California was honored to work with Cary Bernstein, AIA, on this important law, as well as the members of its Advocacy Advisory Committee led by Robert Ooley, FAIA.”

Signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on August 29th SB1214 will take effect on January 1, 2023 as Government Code 65103.5.

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