Copyright protections coming to golf course designs


In its basic form, intellectual property has been protected under the U.S. Constitution in Title 17 of the U.S. Code, Section 102(a), that ensures protection for “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression,” which broadly includes everything from literature to music to photographs, and since a 1990 amendment to the Copyright Act, the architectural design of buildings.

A bill introduced this year in Congress would include golf course design under the copyright umbrella. Known as the “Bolstering Intellectual Rights against Digital Infringement Enhancement Act, or the “BIRDIE Act,” this proposed legislation would protect course designs after December 1, 1990, mainly in response to the expanding industry of golf simulators and other virtual reality media. Introduced by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., the bill seeks to include golf course designs within the definition of “architectural works.”

The BIRDIE Act would amend the Copyright Act to include not only the overall layout and design of a golf course, but also its various components such as landscaping, irrigation systems, paths, greens, tees, practice facilities, bunkers, lakes and topographic features. Further, the provisions would also apply to unconstructed works embodied in unpublished plans or drawings as of Dec. 1, 1990. This means a significant number of existing course designs could potentially benefit from copyright protection under the new legislation, and it’s possible that redesigns of courses would then be covered.

The BIRDIE Act would also bring under its purview so-called “replica” courses, which recreate famous golf holes from famous golf architects, and now number at least 13 in the United States. Of those, I have only played the Tour 18 in Dallas, which is 18 holes from PGA Tour courses including number 17 at TPC Sawgrass; and the Tribute Golf Links, which replicates famous holes from courses in Scotland where the Open Championship has been played. While all these replica courses pay homage to famous golf course designs and architects, they are stealing intellectual, architectural and artistic property, doubtless unintentionally, that had not been under copyright law.

The proposed BIRDIE Act is supported broadly by the members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. “The BIRDIE Act isn’t just good for golf course architects, it’s good for golf course owners as well. It acknowledges golf courses for what they are: creative works of art. Golf course architecture isn’t just planned on paper; it’s also created on site by visionaries making the most of a setting. While physical plans can by copyrighted, decisions  made in the field cannot. So, it makes sense that a finished golf course would be protected as well,” says ASGCA past president Jan Bel Jan.

Robert Trent Jones, Jr., past president of ASGCA, states, “By securing these copyrights, we inspire (golf course architects) to continue creating original designs and playing experiences for the huge numbers of golfers in the United States and around the world. This protection will ensure that if someone wishes to copy their work, then the architect will be involved to make sure it’s represented accurately and properly for the benefit of all.”

If the bipartisan BIRDIE Act doesn’t pass both houses of Congress, those elected politicians who voted “no” should be penalized severely.