Naturalis must halt refurbishment on grounds of architect’s copyright

In recent interlocutory proceedings a judge ordered Naturalis, a museum in Leiden, to stop the refurbishment of its building. The building's architect had opposed the refurbishment on the grounds of his copyright in the original design.

Any new work is automatically entitled to copyright protection, and it is therefore unnecessary to register this copyright. While not everything is protected by copyright, but the conditions are quite relaxed. In general, copyright tends to relate to music, films and books, but it is also relevant to architectural works. Thus, sketches, construction plans and the ultimate design may be protected by copyright.

The exploitation of copyright may be transferred. However, the so-called ‘personality rights’ of the work's creator are not transferrable. This means that the creator may oppose changes made to his or her work by others. Therefore, under the right conditions, an architect may file an opposition to the alteration of his or her building.

Architect versus Naturalis
Naturalis needed to extend the museum, and therefore the refurbishment of the interior and a new extension were considered essential. The architect of the museum wished to stop this. In his claim before the court, he emphasised that he was not opposed to the extension, but felt that the proposed changes to the Naturalis building were an infringement of his personality rights.

As part of the proceedings, the judge visited the museum to establish whether it was eligible for copyright protection. He held that it was: according to the judge, the interior of the museum was clearly characterised by individually recognisable and interconnected separate rooms, creating interesting vistas and free areas, and the difference between light and dark also played an important role. The planned refurbishment of the rooms would reduce the museum to a massive warehouse.

The judge agreed with the architect that the new design of the distinctive areas affected the original design. For that reason, the judge felt that the planned change would damage the work, thus constituted copyright infringement.

Can an architect oppose all changes to the buildings that he or she has designed? No – for example, the demolition of a building cannot be opposed on grounds of copyright because demolition is not regarded as damage to the work. Nor should it be: if demolition were always opposed on the grounds of copyright, this would have socially unacceptable consequences. However, in the case of less radical changes, the architect's opposition is not always accepted. Sometimes, it is necessary to consider all aspects.

The ruling followed interlocutory proceedings, so is a temporary solution, and the definitive decision is not expected for several months. For now, Naturalis may not proceed with the planned refurbishment and – in its own words – may face bankruptcy.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight

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