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Found a Design You Want to Build? Beware of Copyright

In this article I want to shed some light on copyright and common misunderstandings surrounding building designs and plans.

I was consulting with a prospective client for a design and build project recently. I presented a proposal for the design and all the required document preparation for submission to council to get us to the build stage of our process.

When it came to the designs Built for Living were preparing for them, the owners were of the belief that once they had paid for these designs they would be theirs exclusively, to do with as they pleased, like if they wanted to use another builder.

I carefully explained to them that it didn’t work that way, and set out what they needed to be aware of. So here I thought I would offer some simple clarification for others planning on a design and build journey.

All building designers’ works, including floor plans, elevations, design features and so on, no matter how you come across them, are copyrighted. Copyright law protects the designers rights, not the clients, even if you have engaged your own builder to provide a design and build project.

Copyright is a law that provides protection of the designers work against theft and subsequent loss of income. Using another’s design or even only a part of without the designers express consent is a breach of this copyright. Doing so opens the way for litigation against you.

With the vast amount of plans being thrust onto our computer screens while searching for layout ideas and a builder to build them, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that it was all out there for the taking. But unfortunately it’s not. Design use is limited and definitely not there for you to readily have your own builder use the design from someone else you have found.

During development applications, plans are made available to the public and a range of various consultants (some of which are the designers friends) during the period of council approval. Designers can check for copyright breaches, and people do get taken to court. So it is worth considering if the potential grief and ensuing legal costs and legacy risk are worth it.

Something else to think about is the attitude of the builder who happily uses someone else’s plans to build for you, who you then have to wonder – is he going to do something similar to you?… Any reputable builder will understand copyright and maintain his professionalism by respecting the designers rights in the first place.

The good news is some designers may agree to sell you an exclusive one-off licence to use a plan of theirs, maybe with some modifications. You’re better off making contact with the copyright holder in the first instance to see if they are willing to do business with you.

You might also want to seek your own legal advice on the matter, especially if you plan on submitting your finished renovation/new home to a design magazine competition, for all to see.

Built for Living in Sydney provides a design and build service where designs can be customised to suit the owners specific needs.

See the website for more information www.builtforliving.sydney

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Meet The Author

I started building in the 80's, completed my Carpentry & Joinery trade and was first licensed in the early nineties. I continued formal training including the Advanced Certificate in Building Supervision (formerly 'Clerk of Works') and was granted my full builders licence in the mid nineties along with a few academic awards. I live in Sydney's south with my wife and we share our home with three kids, one dog, a cat, six goldfish and a budgie. I've been known to do the odd endurance event though presently my Sunday morning program mostly involves sleeping-in and taking the dog for a run. I also like to build things.

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