The National Association of REALTORS® has filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. In that case, Designworks Homes, Inc. sued Columbia House of Brokers Realty, Inc., after the real estate company reproduced and published floor plans along with their listings. The court ruled that the use of floor plan reproductions may infringe on architectural copyrights.
By allowing copyright infringement lawsuits to be filed against homeowners who remake or display their home floor plans, NAR alleges that the court’s ruling misrepresents federal law and invalidates decades of legal precedent. When creating the Copyright Act of 1976, Congress specifically added permission for homeowners to create “pictures” or “other pictorial representations” of architectural works without fear of legal culpability. Additionally, when the statute establishing architectural copyrights was created in 1990, it included a key exception:
“The copyright in an architectural work that has been constructed does not include the right to prevent the making, distributing, or public display of pictures, paintings, photographs or other pictorial representations of the work, if the building in which the work is embodied is located in or ordinarily visible from a public place.”
The decision by the Eighth Circuit leaves homeowners vulnerable to unnecessary legal liabilities, a news release from NAR explains. The association filed the brief today, introducing it alongside 18 groups related to the U.S. real estate industry, including the Redfin Corporation, the Zillow Group, the American Property Owners Alliance and CoreLogic.
NAR’s latest Home Buyers and Sellers Generational Trends report found that floor plans were considered “very useful” by about two-thirds of homebuyers when shopping online. In the survey, floor plans also ranked ahead of other crucial categories when deciding on a home, including neighborhood information, virtual open houses and surrounding price data.
The language of NAR’s brief explains that core role which floor plans play — not only when buying a home, but maintaining one. “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,” it 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 outcome of this legal battle could have even larger economic ramifications. “The U.S. housing market accounted for roughly 18% of our country’s GDP in 2020,” NAR General Counsel Katie Johnson said in a statement. “The Eighth Circuit’s decision not only puts countless consumers at risk of costly, burdensome litigation for making a floorplan 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.”