Whether "interior design" is protected by copyright remains controversial. In Intellectual Property Court's ("IP Court") Judgment No. Min-She-Su-Zi-32 rendered in 2018, the IP Court held that if an interior design including the interior design plans and the completed physical objects created based on the interior design plans (the overall expression of interior design) is an original creation, it belongs to the category of "other architectural works" and enjoys the same protection as an architectural work under the Taiwan Copyright Act.
L'Hotel de Chine Corporation (the "Plaintiff") found that in May, 2014, the legal representative of the Guitian Xiyue Hotel Co., Ltd., Zhu Renzong (the "Defendant"), checked in to Palais de Chine Hotel which is operated by the Plaintiff and per the Defendant's requests, the hotel reception manager agreed to his visiting the "Superior Room" in Palais de Chine Hotel. During the visiting, the Defendant took pictures and recorded measurements of the room interior design.
Afterward, the Plaintiff found that the interior design of the room in Taitung Gui-Tian Hotel which is operated by the Defendant plagiarized the interior design of the "Superior Room" in Palais de Chine Hotel. The Plaintiff subsequently initiated with the IP Court civil proceedings against the Defendant based on the Copyright Act and the Fair Trade Act. The IP Court's judgment regarding the copyright infringement is summarized as follows:
The Taiwan Copyright Act gives examples rather than an exhaustive list when defining "work", the subject matter of copyright. The "work" under the protection of the Act means a creation that is within a literary, scientific, artistic, or other academic domain except those items listed in Paragraph 1, Article 9 which shall not be the subject matters of copyright.
When the Copyright Act was amended on 10 June 1992, the "Architectural Work" was independently classified as a type of work in Subparagraph 9, Article 5. Furthermore, it was added in Subparagraph 5, Paragraph 1, Article 3 that to "reproduce" a work also applies to the construction of an architectural structure based on architectural plans or models.
The tangible expression of an interior design is presented through the appearance of the physical objects created based on the interior design after the overall design is completed. The use and comparison of one single object, in principle, is not the decisive factor for judging if the overall interior design is the same as or similar to another's.
Generally, the decisive factors to compare the similarity of two interior designs include the particular objects actually used, the presentation of the relatively abstract style, the position of the objects and the relative positional relationship of the other objects.
In this case, the evidence the Plaintiff submitted indicates that the particular objects actually used, the position of the objects and the relative positional relationship of the other objects of the two hotel rooms are confusingly similar.
Additionally, the fact that the legal representative of the Defendant ever checked into and visited the "Superior Room" of the hotel operated by the Plaintiff could approve that the interior designs of the defendant's three corresponding rooms have plagiarized the plaintiff’s interior design results.
Architectural works usually refer to artistic creations that express the beauty of the exteriors and structures of buildings, while interior designs refer to artistic creations that express the aesthetics of the interior spaces of buildings. The two terms are similar in nature and functionally complementary. Consequently, if the creation of an interior design is original, it should enjoy the same protection as an architectural work.
Therefore, an original interior design should be treated as "other architectural work" and enjoy the same protection as an architectural work under the Copyright Act. Consequently, the protection scope of an interior design work should include the interior design plans and the physical objects created based on the interior design plans (the overall expression of the interior design).
The judge examined all the evidence submitted and considered that the photos of the room designs of the two hotels were highly similar, and thus, rendered a judgment against the Defendant by holding that as the room interior design of Taitung Gui-Tian Hotel is a plagiarism of the interior design of the "Superior Room" in Palais de Chine Hotel and the Defendant's behavior affects the trading order, the Defendant violates the Copyright Act and the Fair Trade Act. The case is now in appeal procedure.