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Architecture & Copyright


The Chinese Copyright Law (1991) and its Implementing Rules (2002) form the legal framework of copyright protection in China - member state of the Berne Convention (As in Germany). These regulations are applicable only to buildings that have a certain degree of creative distinction, an aesthetic importance. Construction designs and models also fall under the protection of Chinese copyright rules. However, these rules do not follow the “Creator Principle” (copyright owner is the person who has actually created the work) in a consistent manner: as most architects exert their profession in planning bureaus (design institutes), it is the bureau that is responsible and liable for its architects  works. 

Although Chinese copyright rules gives architects various protective rights, such appear rather theoretical in face of the overwhelming economic power of the huge construction companies. Until now, architects in China are relatively powerless with regard to alterations, of their works. Copyright protection starts with the creation of an artistic work, and China introduced a system of voluntary registration of copyrights. Regarding the Right of reproduction, a reproduction of an architectural work can take place in three forms: 1) copying of construction designs; 2) redesigning of an already existing building design and the subsequent construction of a building; 3) the replication of a building at a different site. Number 1) and 3) are infringement of an architect’s if the replication of a building is based on illicit use of somebody else’s building design. Proven to be difficult to judge what are the cases of theft of a third party s artistic creation and a creation, which might appear to be inspired (consciously or not) by somebody else s work.

The notion of a building as an object, which enjoys the protection of copyright laws, has not found unanimous recognition in Chinese society yet.