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Intellectual Property Insights from Fishman Stewart
Mini Article – Volume 24, Issue 12

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US Congress Considers Copyright Protection for Golf Courses

By Kristyn Webb

In February 2024, proposed legislation was introduced in US House of Representatives which would extend copyright protection to golf courses. The bill is titled “Bolstering Intellectual Rights against Digital Infringement Enhancement Act” or the “BIRDIE Act” and would cover certain golf course features including:

  • landscaping;
  • an irrigation system;
  • a path;
  • a golf green;
  • a tee;
  • a facility in which golf is practiced;
  • a bunker;
  • a lake; and
  • a topographic feature.


Notably, the bill excludes courses for “mini golf, or other similar game,” but would otherwise automatically extend protection to golf courses created after 1990. It appears Congress may be concerned about LIDAR being used to obtain scans of popular golf courses, and then being used to replicate those courses in virtual environments. Why travel all the way to Scotland, when you can play the course by popping on a VR headset in the comfort of your own home? Presumably, mini golf is not a concern because, while the fun is priceless, the courses do not generate great profits. 

Supporters, such as golf course architects and owners, say that this bill would provide necessary legal protection for the hard work and creativity that goes in to designing golf courses. Critics say the bill is protectionist and goes too far in granting copyright protection to the ground under our feet. 

Because golf courses are constantly changing as the trees lining the course grow, bunkers are re-edged, and mowing lines shift, it may be difficult to determine what precisely is being protected or copied under this bill. Moreover, in the US, golf has historically been tied up with issues of racial segregation, social stratification, and exclusion. Perhaps using copyright law to erect a barrier to access the sport in a virtual environment is a step backwards policy-wise. While protecting intellectual property is important, the bill as written may not be a hole in one.

While the bill has bipartisan support, it has not progressed far and remains in committee. We will keep you updated with developments. 
Kristyn Webb is the Group Leader of Fishman Stewart’s Copyright Practice Group, and holds a Master’s Degree in Copyright Law from King’s College London.


Published June 28, 2024

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