Prompted by David Siegel's answer, specifically his final sentence:

if a building is old enough that it is not protected by copyright, there is no protection.

Would this apply when the building has recently been altered in some way?

I assume that a substantial alteration, such as a new wing, might have its own copyright but what about a fresh lick of paint on the front door or having wooden window frames replaced with uPVC ones?

I appreciate that it is highly likely to be fact-specific and although I've added the tag for consistency, I'm interested in people's thoughts from any jurisdiction.


The key to limits on protection of architectural works in the US is the definition of the term in 17 USC 101:

An “architectural work” is the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression, including a building, architectural plans, or drawings. The work includes the overall form as well as the arrangement and composition of spaces and elements in the design, but does not include individual standard features.

The US Copyright office explains what this means in Circular 41, saying

The authorship in an architectural work includes the overall form of the building — the exterior elevations of the building when viewed from the front, rear, and sides — as well as any arrangement and composition of walls or other permanent structures that divide the interior into separate rooms and spaces. Copyright does not protect the following elements:

Individual standard features of the architectural work, such as windows, doors, or other staple building components.

Standard configurations of spaces, such as a square bathroom or one-room cabin.

Purely functional features of an architectural work, such as innovations in architectural engineering or construction techniques.

Interior design, such as the selection and placement of furniture, lighting, paint, or similar items.

This explicitly excludes paint. Chapter 300 of the Compendium of U.S. Copyright Office Practices and especially ch. 900 goes into further detail of things excluded, such as "Common architecture moldings, such as the volute used to decorate Ionic and Corinthian columns", "Common patterns, such as standard chevron, polka dot, checkerboard, or houndstooth designs".


The copyright, at least in the US, is on the architectural design as implemented in the building. I think it is obvious that simply repairing damaged paint would not affect this, any more than fixing a typo in a text long out of copyright grants a new copyright to a new edition.

A new wing would clearly have its own copyright, just as an added chapter would in an old book. But as with the book, only the new elements would be protected. Whether a change such as redoing windows in a different material would make the building a derivative work with a new copyright I am less sure of, but I am inclined to think not.

Edit Based on the provisions of 17 USC 101 quoted in another answer, things such as window replacements would not have a copyright effect.

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