What’s Going On At the Corncob Towers?

If you happen to live in an area served by the tiny Skyline newspaper (“News of Lincoln Park, Old Town, River North and Gold Coast”), try to pick up a free copy before the next edition comes out Thursday.

The front page story is about the wackiness going on at Marina City.  We’ve heard in the past that the people running the residential portion of the building were imposing illogical, illegal, and draconian rules on folks, but this is the first article in print we’ve seen.

Skyline’s article (online here ) details some of the unusual goings on in the building.  Apparently, if you want to record what’s going on at the HOA meeting (which is your right under state law), you have to sign an agreement giving the HOA ownership of your recording.  Don’t want to give up your rights? Then pay a $10,000 “fine” to the association.

More troubling is that the HOA is asserting something its calling “common law copyright” over all photographs of Marina City.  First, let’s be clear — there is no such thing as “common law copyright.”  The notion of “common law copyright” was struck down by U.S. Supreme Court court in  its first copyright case back in 1834 (online here ).  Moreover, you can’t copyright a building.  You can trademark it.  But even if you do, you cannot restrict other people from taking pictures of it.  That’s federal law.  Allow us to quote United States Code, Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 120.

Scope of exclusive rights in architectural works

(a) Pictorial Representations Permitted. – 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.

This is a battle that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland lost in 1988.  It sued to stop a photographer from selling posters of the museum.  The museum lost that case.  The Sixth Circuit court reaffirmed that photographers have a right to photograph buildings and sell those buildings.  You can read the federal court’s ruling here .

One resident has already been fined $1,000 for crossing the HOA’s line, and his landlord was dinged another $1,000 for violating the HOA’s fictional copyright.  Maybe when the ice melts, Marina City will set up a toll booth in the river and collect money from all the tourists going by with cameras on the tour boats.  That should go over well with the city.

The real tragedy about all this is that it’s been going on for so long.  We heard the rumblings about two years ago, which means it’s been going on far longer than that.  There’s nothing in the Chicago Tribune’s deep archives about the Marina City antics.  Hopefully it or the Sun-Times will look into this as well.

Not surprisingly, no one from the HOA would talk to the Skyline newspaper.  Even the HOA lawyer wouldn’t talk, and get this… he referred questions back to his client!  As a former journalist, I can tell you that may be an unprecedented move.  Maybe the Chicago Journal’s lawyers (Skyline is owned by the Chicago Journal) can put Marina City in its place when it tries to collect money for the picture of the building on the front page of the newspaper.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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