Monday, December 13, 2010

A Reply From the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Mr. Wright & Mr. Wrong
Today this appeared in my university in-box. After the furor over the closing of the Virtual Frank Lloyd Wright Museum in the last 10 days, I was pleased to see the Foundation reply. My protest over the closing in my e-mail was civil, and I appreciate the civil and detailed reply given here.  If you want to editorialize, have a go in the comments.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (the Foundation) has received numerous inquiries regarding its decision to terminate the license relationship with Virtual Museums, Inc., the builder of the Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum in Second Life. Misinformation directed towards the Foundation regarding the situation appears in press releases, blogs, and throughout the Second Life community and is perpetuating an incorrect and misleading perception of the Foundation’s position with respect to an educational presence in Second Life.

The Foundation and the owners’ of various Frank Lloyd Wright building sites own copyrights that give the Foundation and others the exclusive rights to copy and display Wright’s buildings and designs. The Foundation entered into a licensing agreement with Virtual Museums, Inc. (VMI) for installation of a virtual museum in Second Life that allowed VMI to reproduce the architectural designs of the homes and buildings created by Frank Lloyd Wright and protected by copyright and trademark law. It was the Foundation’s hope and intention that a virtual museum would be a positive and educational undertaking to allow architects, scholars, students, and a younger generation to be able to learn about the many aspects of Wright’s architecture.

The Foundation terminated the license agreement with VMI for numerous reasons, including the fact that several of the buildings as constructed in Second Life and displayed by VMI did not accurately reflect the buildings as actually designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Foundation further offered a new and revised license agreement to VMI’s new board and management but it was declined. The Foundation was disappointed that they could not obtain agreement with VMI as to the license agreement terms, but the Foundation and the real world Frank Lloyd Wright building site owners have a duty to protect the intellectual property and works of Wright.

The Foundation will continue to look for creative ways to work with academics, authors, scholars, reputable organizations and online and virtual communities to educate the public about the work and teachings of Frank Lloyd Wright.


Marie Ravencrow said...

There's nothing about whether the Foundation consulted with the builders about the discrepancies. Did they? If they did not, they didn't give the builders the chance to rectify what they felt were mistakes.


Ghosty said...

I'm interested to know what the revised license said. Did the Foundation ask for the impossible, or was VMI butthurt?

Iggy O said...

Reasonable question, Marie. I'd like to know what was in the "new and revised license."

Jim Tarber said...

"several of the buildings as constructed in Second Life and displayed by VMI did not accurately reflect the buildings as actually designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Foundation further offered a new and revised license agreement to VMI’s new board and management but it was declined."

This is speculation on my part, but there is an implication there that the changes to the terms were likely related to ensuring more representative modeling of the FLW structures. I think the largest question now is why VMI would have declined.

I'm impressed that FLWF took the time to reply to these inquiries. As always, there is probably more to this than the various blogs are capable of reporting.

Ron T Blechner said...

The buildings on Google Earth are nowhere near 100% fidelity to the physical buildings, either, but they're on Google Earth. Check out:
43°08'26.47" N 90°04'12.65" W
This press release reads like typical generic legal question-avoiding and is fairly see-through.

Ultimately, all it does it further convince me that FLWF has no clue what social media is and how to leverage it.

Ron T Blechner said...

Here's another:
39°54'22.75" N 79°28'04.86" W
The FLWVM was far more detailed than the one on Google Earth.

Further, if the museum really wanted to, they could drop the name and still depict buildings' license for non-commercial purposes. That is absolutely fair use. FLWF did not create the 3-D model - the 3-D model is an artistic impression of the physical. And, in the same way an artist can't claim copyright violation if I take a picture of a building, a 3-D model works the same way. It's insulting that FLWF would strong-arm a non-profit group in this manner.

Rik Panganiban said...

thanks for sharing this! I posted a link to it on

Second Life Hobo said...

If you care to see some of the buildings i have this live stream capture here

Godeke said...


These apply to 1990's and forward (and attached art pieces) in a way that is unexpected to many. The Wright works are long prior to this date, but the restrictions are growing, not shrinking in this area.

Iggy O said...

Good point about public buildings, Godeke. Thank you for that link. Fallingwater would, then, be protected by copyright since it's not "located in or ordinarily visible from a public place."

On the other hand, the Guggenheim in New York would not be covered by the law. Anyone could put it on a calendar, paint it, or make a SL replica.

Rowan Derryth said...

I'm not sure that is accurate about the Guggenheim - they've managed to make it a brand and have some seriously strong copyright.

Since this has been picked up so widely, I've written about this issue at the request of my editor, on the Prim Perfect Blog:

It may answer some of the questions people have raised here.

Iggy O said...

Rowan, it would be interesting if someone tried to challenge Guggenheim under Section 120(a) of the US Copyright Act. The question would be whether a 3D building enjoys the same protection as a 2D "pictorial representation."

My source for this claim was William Patry's blog, at the link provided in the comments here by Godeke:

Here's the passage in question:

Section 120(a) of the Copyright Act, added in 1990 when protection was accorded for the first time statutorily to architectural works, reads:

"(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."

Rowan Derryth said...

Well, I agree with that, and actually that has always been my position and understanding as well. However there have been arguments made that these are not 2D pictorial representations, but 3D renderings, and hence derivative works. It is a very interesting question. And one that, in my view, has not had a satisfactory answer. See the comments on my original blog post, I believe it came up there too.