The question of copyright when it comes to building plans is an interesting one. Any architect can tell you a lot of time, creativity and hard work goes into drawing up the plans and blueprints for a building. But we live in an age of instant sharing and easy accessibility, even to materials that maybe aren’t meant to be shared at large. Building a home for a client from downloaded plans or otherwise purloined blueprints can land you in hot water – sometimes legally, other times only as a moral or ethical quandary.
Who Owns Building Plans?
The answer is it depends – who originally created the plans and for what purpose? If an architect drew up plans for a client, the contract would specify whether those plans are for exclusive use by that client. Think about chain restaurants, for example – they’re all built from a specific set of plans to maintain consistency across the brand, with allowances for regional and local variances in building codes and zoning laws.
On the other hand, when it comes to private residences, some plans are drawn up and the architect is given free use to reuse those plans or make them accessible under a Creative Commons license. Plans for tiny homes, for example, can be found in the Creative Commons domain where they’re free to use for non-commercial endeavors like building a private residence.
What Happens if You Use Off Limits Plans?
As a contractor, you may not bear the burden of liability if you build a client’s home using plans from a dubious source. But you may be drawn into the middle of a legal quagmire, or even tried in the court of social opinion if the fact that the plans weren’t okay to use come to light on social media or through traditional media channels.
At best, your reputation could be tarnished and you’ll be viewed as unscrupulous or untrustworthy. Potential clients may question if you’re willing to go along with something in a legal gray area like using plans that aren’t yours to use, what else might you be doing that’s not aboveboard?
At worst, if you’re aware of any legal limitations on using the plans and choose to ignore them you may be found complicit in theft and might end up owing a lot of money – either to your lawyer as you consult with them about it or fight it or in fines to the original architect who drew up the plans as compensation for the use.
What Happens if You Don’t Know?
If you’re unaware that your plans are pirated, used illegally or otherwise not okay to use because of contractual obligations, you may not bear the burden of responsibility in the eyes of a court of law. It would likely fall on your client’s shoulders. It’s still worth consulting with a knowledgeable real estate, copyright or contracting lawyer if the issue arises, as your reputation as a contractor is still at stake and an article on the Internet is not a substitution for actual counsel. Pay a professional to guide you through the process.
Building Plans, Copyright and You
As a contractor, you need to be aware of where and how your client came by their building plans. Were they drawn up by an architect specifically for them and this use? Were they given written or verbal permission to use them? Did they buy them for this purpose or download them illegally? When in doubt, speak with your lawyer.
Have you ever gotten in trouble because of a client’s plans or blueprints?