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Lawsuits Over Floorplans May Become Reality if Ruling Stands

The National Association of Realtors (NAR), among a group of 18 companies and organizations, is leading the charge against a recent court ruling that allows lawsuits to be brought against homeowners that use their own floor plan during the course of selling their house. 

According to a statement released by the NAR, the Court’s ruling “misrepresents” federal law and would invalidate decades of legal precedent by allowing copyright infringement lawsuits to be filed against homeowners who make or display floor plans of their own homes.  

The case in question is this: in Columbia House Brokers Realty, Inc. v. Designworks Homes, Inc., the plaintiff claimed the real estate company had violated its copyrights to the architectural floorplans—specifically the design of a “triangular atrium with stairs”—of a home it built after the real estate company created its own floor plans of the home to assist in the sale of the property. 

The Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the plaintiff, concluding that the defendants did in fact infringe upon their copyright when they created and published the floorplans without authorization. 

The ruling from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, is now being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and as such, the NAR, along with a consortium of 18 companies and groups, has filed an amicus curiae brief with the court in support of the defendant making the case that “floorplans are critical to the purchase, sale, and enjoyment of real property,” and “the decision threatens to severely limit property rights” among others. 

Submitted directly to the court in question and commonly filed in the appeals process, an amicus brief educates the court on points of law in doubt, gathers information, or raises awareness of some aspect of a case that the court may otherwise miss. 

These amicus briefs are usually submitted by an affected party, but cannot be party to the case itself (plaintiff, defendant, or lawyer) and the views in the briefs must have some knowledge or perspective of the subject matter that make its views valuable to the court. 

In short, an amicus brief is a statement to the court which walks a fine line between providing added information and advancing the cause of one of the parties. No court is obligated to follow, or even consider, the advice or standpoint in a brief. 

"The U.S. housing market accounted for roughly 18% of our country's GDP in 2020," said NAR General Counsel Katie Johnson. "The Eighth Circuit's decision not only puts countless consumers at risk of costly, burdensome litigation for making a floor plan of their own home, but it also strains a key sector of America's economy and threatens a critical tool of transparency for potential home buyers." 

Congress specifically allowed for homeowners to create "pictures" or "other pictorial representations" of architectural works without fear of liability when crafting the Copyright Act of 1976. 

Many home buyers rely on floor plans in real estate listings to decide whether to purchase a residence, and their ability to secure financing for that transaction is often contingent on an appraisal that requires the creation of a floor plan," the brief reads. "After acquiring a dwelling, homeowners will often make floor plans to help them tackle installations, arrange furniture and complete do-it-yourself projects…[And] many jurisdictions require homeowners to submit floor plans before they renovate their property." 

The full list of companies that are party to the brief are: The American Property Owners Alliance, The American Society of Appraisers, The Appraisal Institute, Clear Capital, The CCIM Institute, CoreLogic, CubiCasa, The International Association of Assessing Officers, The International Council of Shopping Centers, The Massachusetts Board of Real Estate Appraisers, The Real Estate Valuation Advocacy Association, The Realtors Land Institute, Redfin, The Residential Real Estate Council, The Society of Industrial and Office Realtors, The Women’s Council of Realtors, and the Zillow Group, Inc. 

“In the decision, the Eighth Circuit held that real estate professionals, along with the homebuyers and homeowners they represent, now run the risk of burdensome copyright litigation and severe liability for making or displaying a floorplan of a home,” the brief said. “That ruling threatens not only crippling damages for amici and their members or users, but substantial disruption to the many national industries related to the acquisition, enjoyment, and disposition of real property.” 

Click here to read the brief in full. 

About Author: Kyle G. Horst

Kyle G. Horst is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of the University of Texas at Tyler, he has worked for a number of daily, weekly, and monthly publications in South Dakota and Texas. With more than 10 years of experience in community journalism, he has won a number of state, national, and international awards for his writing and photography including best newspaper design by the Associated Press Managing Editors Group and the international iPhone photographer of the year by the iPhone Photography Awards. He most recently worked as editor of Community Impact Newspaper covering a number of Dallas-Ft. Worth communities on a hyperlocal level. Contact Kyle G. at kyle.horst@thefivestar.com.
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