Venice court tackles copyright protection for architectural works as applied to yachts

Via Katfriends Elena Martini and Luigi Manna (Martini Manna Law Firm) comes the news that recently the Venice Court of First Instance - in the context of interim proceedings - acknowledged copyright protection in the design (including of its interiors) of a yacht (RG 2236/2018).


An architect, Tiberio Cerato, was commissioned to design the layout, interiors and furnishings of a yacht named Checkmate. A company, Wally, from which the yacht purchaser had only acquired the structural parts, however, published on its own website photographs of the yacht as if it was its own work. It also uploaded a video of the yacht on both YouTube and Vimeo in which it represented itself as the one responsible for the styling and interior design, without even mentioning the architect's name and indicating, instead, itself and another person as responsible for them.

Cerato requested the Venice Court of First Instance to issue an interim order that would prohibit the company from using any images, drawings, projects and videos relating to the Checkmate yacht. Wally contested Cerato's claim, arguing among other things that Cerato's work would not be original, in that his choices were prompted by the very shape of the boat. As such, it would fail to be protected as an architectural work under Article 2, No 5, of the Italian Copyright Act.

The decision

Following a ping-pong between the parties and an initial dismissal of Cerato's application, in a subsequent decision the Venice court noted that the concept of originality should not be intended as entailing novelty. Furthermore, the same idea can be at the basis of different works which may carry the 'personal touch' of their authors. 

It follows that an architectural work may be eligible for copyright protection even if it revisits solutions already adopted in the past, insofar as the personal contribution of the author is visible in the creative result. 

In addition, the protection available to architectural works should be intended as also extending to interior furnishings, especially where such furnishings are the result of the author's own project.

The court went on and held [the translation from Italian is mine]:
In this sector, what matters is not really the realization of furnishings considered in their isolation, but rather the design and interpretation of elements which are already known, in such a way that the author can express their own personality.
It follows that, for copyright protection to arise in architectural works, originality is to be assessed in light of the "choice, coordination and organization of the elements of the work, in relation to the overall result pursued".

This would be the case of Cerato's work, whose work was indeed commissioned to create something personal and different from Wally's offering. Originality would lie in the architect's re-elaboration and personalization of known elements.

The court thus concluded that both the requirements needed to issue the interim measure (fumus boni iurise and periculum in mora) subsisted. Hence, to safeguard both the economic and moral (attribution) rights of the architect, it ordered Wally to remove all images and videos representing the yacht. The only exception would relate to Wally's brokering activities: in such cases, it would be possible to publish the image of the yacht, though with the indication of the architect's name [this is what happened here].

Also The IPKat dreams of 
likes to blog about IP from a yacht

The interim decision of the Venice court is not surprising, also considering the broad understanding of what qualifies as an 'architectural work' under Italian copyright law. With particular regard to interior furnishings, it is settled case law in Italy that these may fall within the notion of 'architectural works' and may be, as such, deserving of protection. 

In this sense, readers might recall the recent decision of the Milan Court of Appeal, which acknowledged that copyright would vest in the store layout of Italian cosmetics brand KIKO. Also in that case it was found that originality lies in how a certain idea is expressed by the author. A creative result that is not imposed by the technical problem that it seeks to solve could be in fact eligible for protection.  

Finally, case law has also tackled issues of architects' moral rights. While in the case of Cerato what was at issue was his right of attribution, in order instances courts have considered what room is left for the moral right of integrity in the event of modifications to an architect's initial project in the course of execution thereof. In this sense, the prevalent view in Italian case law is that the architect's authorization is not needed for modifications that are detrimental to their honour or reputation should such modifications be indispensable to the realization of the work.
Venice court tackles copyright protection for architectural works as applied to yachts Venice court tackles copyright protection for architectural works as applied to yachts Reviewed by Eleonora Rosati on Wednesday, November 28, 2018 Rating: 5

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