Un/Fair Use

Un/Fair Use

Copying is as much part of architecture as the expectation of novelty. Architecture advances via comment, criticism, parody, and innovation, forms of appropriation that fall under the umbrella of fair use, a loophole in copyright law to safeguard culture from monopoly. But what happens when appropriation is deemed unfair? Where and how are the lines drawn around permissible use? Un/Fair Use probes that legal boundary, illuminating the strange constellation of protections provided by the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act of 1990 (AWCPA).

As it applies to the workings of architectural practice, the copyright law is utterly unglamorous. It is a collection of statutes and legal language that is most often associated with litigation, with contentious neighbors, and with costly reviews. Each time a case is brought before a court, new terms are defined and new notions of architectural creativity and operation are tested for legitimacy. And yet this law is rarely interrogated as a cultural artifact. Un/Fair Use is invested in an idea of the law as participant in the construction of the public’s architectural imagination.

Un/Fair Use offers for contemplation models of common and therefore uncopyrightable architectural tropes and formal themes next to those protected under the AWCPA. Video interviews with key players in the development of the 1990 architectural copyright language – Bill Patry, Michael Graves, Karen Nichols, David Daileda, and Jane C. Ginsburg – provide a first-hand account of the legal and legislative questions answered en route to resolution.

Initial exhibition research was conducted during the 2012 graduate research workshop at MIT, “Appropriation: The Work of Architecture in the Age of Copyright,” led by Miljački and Hirschman, and continued with the support of the Lawrence B. Anderson Award.