Can I copyright or trademark my building?

I am the owner a unique, one-of-a-kind building that is well known in the area. It has National Historic Monument status, but is privately owned and maintained. It is surrounded by public area, and is a part of historical and other types of tours. This building is being used on various websites, in logo’s, and on T-shirts that are sold in local shops. Other people are making money on the image. Can I get this building trademarked or copyrighted? I really appreciate an opinion if this is a possibility or no chance. Thank you!

Julie on July 8, 2012

Hi Julie. That is an interesting question. You should definitely seek the advice of a local attorney. You could file for a trademark featuring a graphical mark (an iconic representation) of your building. That might prevent people using your graphical mark or something similar to it in logos and marketing materials. If your building itself represents your business, you may be able to get a trademark for the building itself (consult a trademark attorney for that). But a trademark would probably not prevent people from using photos taken from public views — see the landmark case Rock & Roll Hall of Fame v. Gentile, 1998. I believe that you can’t copyright a building (just the design or plans, after 1976) and, even if you could, there is a specific exception for “architectural works” [17 USC §120]. As a property owner, you might get property rights which would depend upon your local laws — consult a local lawyer for that. However, none of this necessarily stops you from trying to control how your building’s image is used. Many distinctive buildings restrict photography use (see buildings to avoid) and you could work with an attorney to develop a licensing plan. Good luck!

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, property rights

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