What type of copyrightable work does an interior design drawing fall into?  Taiwan’s court decisions hold different views on this question, which is very important because how a work is categorized can lead to different legal consequences, particularly the scope of the copyright owner’s exclusive rights.  A recent criminal case reflects the different attitudes toward this issue (2021 Tai Shang Zi No. 3615, Supreme Court).

Case Background

  1. X was engaged in the brokerage of architectural design projects.  X invited Y to bid for an interior design project for Company A’s dormitory.  Due to the high costs of the project, Y asked Y1’s design team to collaborate with Y.  Y drafted the plan drawings, produced sample houses and participated in the tender under the name of Tomino Engineering.
  2. Company A selected Tomino Engineering’s Tomino Design Plan and Sample House as the best proposal.  During the price negotiation stage, however, Company A was concerned that Tomino Engineering might not be able to complete the project successfully due to its low capital amount.  X then referred the project to Z, who had no prior knowledge of what transpired during the failed negotiation, and provided Z with Tomino Design Plan for reference.  In the end, Company A awarded the project to Z with reference to Tomino’s Sample House installed at the project site.  After the completion of the project, Y and Y1 found that the design of the dormitory was almost identical to their Tomino Design Plan and the Sample House that they had bid with.  They filed a criminal complaint against X for copyright infringement. 

The Court of First Instance: An interior design drawing is a “graphic work” and its implementation should not be regulated by Copyright Act.

  1.  The Court of First Instance held that interior design drawings are graphics with dimensions, specifications or structures, and with utilitarian nature.  If an interior design is “original” (independent creation not copied from others) and “creative” (created with aesthetic feature and express the author’s thoughts or feelings), it shall fall under the category of “graphic work” and protected under the Copyright Act (refer to IPO 01 October 2018 Zhi-Zhuan-Zi No. 10716009930 Explanation).  The foregoing is different from copyrightable “architectural works,” which bear artistic features and belong to the core part of copyright field.  The difference between an “interior design drawing” as a “graphic work” and an “architectural plan” as an “architectural work” lies in the fact that an “architectural plan” focuses on the design for the interior of the building, with its core of expression lying in the “architectural structure” rather than the surface design of interior decoration.
  2. The Tomino Sample House is, in fact, a three-dimensional display of the Tomino Design Plan.  It is a simulated execution of the Tomino Design plan and does not create a new work.  Therefore, it is not an independent copyrightable subject matter (refer to IPO 23 May 2014 No. 1030523b Email Explanation).
  3. In the current case, Z’s reference to Tomino Design Plan or Tomino Sample House for Company A’s dormitory project was merely an act of “execution” and not a “reproduction” activity as regulated in Article 91 of the Copyright Act.  Therefore, X should be acquitted.

The Court of Second Instance reverses the judgment and ruled that the interior design drawing belongs to an “architectural work” and the creation of a three-dimensional work in accordance with the interior design drawing is an act of “reproduction” infringement specifically regulated by Copyright Act.  This judgment was upheld by the Supreme Court (2021 No. 3615 criminal judgment).

1. The Court of Second Instance held that the interior design drawing falls under the category of architectural works based on the following:

(1) An architecture includes not only the structure and external appearance of a building, but also the planning and design of its interior and surrounding space.  A copyrightable interior design drawing should fall under the category of architectural plan, which is within the scope of architectural work.  The interior design itself is a recreation of the internal space of the building, evolving from the decorative part of the architectural design, and shall belong to other architectural work.  Interior design refers to the planning of any related objects created for the interior of the building, including walls, windows, curtains, doors, finishing, materials, lighting, air conditioning, plumbing, environmental control systems, audio-visual equipment, furniture and decorations.

(2) The court referred to U.S. Copyright Law’s definition of architectural work, which is “the design of a building, architectural plans, or drawing” presented in any tangible medium.  The architectural work includes the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design.  Any features, including exterior and interior architecture that reflect the architect’s creative ideas and feeling, shall be covered by architectural works.

(3) As Taiwan Copyright Act was amended in 1992, the legislators referred to Article 2(1) of the Berne Convection and other international legislation by recognizing “architectural works” as the ninth form of copyrightable subject matter in Article 5 and added in Article 3 that “the construction of an architectural structure based on architectural plans or models” is also a “reproduction” activity that belongs to the exclusive right of the author.  The legislators explicitly stated that the intention of such addendum was to expand the protection of architectural works.

2. In this case, the Tomino Design Plan was an interior design plan and should fall under the category of architectural work.  The Tomino Sample House was constructed based on said interior design plan, with added color scheme, form and material selection of cabinets, furniture and other hardware, the woodwork and plumbing, etc, to created a comfortable and beautiful living space, which was not only a mere functional furniture arrangement, but rather a creation of independent ingenuity and craftsmanship.  As such, the Tomino Sample House in itself should also be protected as architectural work.

3. Infringement of an architectural work may occur regardless of whether access to its three-dimensional work is obtained from its two-dimensional or three-dimensional depiction.  In the current case, X had used Z to construct the project based on Tomino Design Plan and Sample House, and therefore, infringed on Y’s architectural work by means of reproduction, as stipulated in Article 91(1) of the Copyright Act.