Personal Finance

Architectural copyright hinges on originality

Burj-al-Arab building in Dubai which is copyrighted. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s real estate seems to be rising insofar as architecture is concerned. There are many majestic buildings mushrooming in commercial, retail and residential sectors. It is a dream for many individuals and businesses to buy or build their own premises.

There are many factors that go into home or property ownership and some of them include price, location and quality.

Some buyers place a higher premium on the aesthetic value of a property and for them, design is a key component in purchase decision. Individual preference determines the most favoured design. Some general ones include colonial style, country, Mediterranean, Greek, Spanish, oriental, cabin log homes and modern-contemporary styles.

An architect’s role in the finished product is therefore of great importance to meeting client tastes.

The design of a home begins with a concept which is initiated either by the architect or his client. The architect reduces this concept in drawings, plans and at times may resort to usage of technology such as audio-visual designs and even software.


The work of an architect brings up a lot of legal ownership issues, particularly those touching on intellectual property.

The first is that the works are eligible for copyright protection under Kenyan law where they are original and reduced in material form. This means that ideas and unrecorded concepts are not eligible. Furthermore, the design must be original. The architect must demonstrate great creativity and originality in his design.

Functional parts of a home are not eligible for protection. There are many majestic buildings that are the product of unique architect designs and which have been protected by copyright. For example, in one media report, the “Burj-al-Arab building in Dubai is copyrighted and no replica of the same can be made.

Taj Mahal

In the same media report there was a diplomatic spat between India and Bangladesh when a Bangladeshi architect produced an exact replica of the Taj Mahal in Bangladesh.

Kenyan architects should apply creativity and innovation in their designs so that they can be protected. Furthermore, the rise of iconic Kenyan buildings may contribute to the “Kenyan brand.” So iconic are the Burj-al-Arab and Burj Khalifa buildings that they contribute to architectural tourism in Dubai.

Ownership of the design depends on the business model in question. Some architects originate designs which they then sell at random, meaning the designs belong to them. Others derive concepts from their clients and in such cases, ownership may belong to the client if the contract stipulates so.

A protected work gives the owner (or architect) control over reproduction, sale, lease or even derivation of his work.

An architect can control the erection of a building which is a reproduction of his protected work. For architects, this means they will be able to attain a competitive edge over their works as nobody else can use them without authority. Such authority can be predicated on royalties. Architects can also sell their designs at a premium while increasing their company valuations.

Protecting architectural designs also minimises incidence of replication therefore preserving the aesthetic value of iconic buildings which is beneficial to home owners.