It is disappointing that after you showed your model homes or custom floor plans to potential clients. Unfortunately, this occurs far too frequently in the residential construction sector. However, by being aware of the copyright protections in place and taking extra care and precautions during the initial design stage, builders can better position themselves to deter or even stop customers from copying their plans. You can safeguard yourself from unwanted, time-consuming, and potentially expensive copyright infringement claims by having some knowledge of copyright laws.
What is Protected?
Any original expression fixed in a tangible medium stands by copyright law. It means that, in general, copyright law protects anything ORIGINAL that you create by drawing, writing, typing, painting, recording, or creating something digitally as soon as you put it on paper, save it to the “cloud,” or even just draw it on a napkin. It includes any unique floor plans, illustrations, and sketches you create. Creating a floor plan will grant access to a unique one.
To obtain copyright protection, remember that your plans must be original or distinctive in some way. Instead of using custom plans created by a different party or replica of a unique house you visited, the designs should be your creation. The distinctive, non-functional components of your designs offer copyright protection. The plans you want to protect should include more than just the practical, typical layouts in all “cookie-cutter” home plans. Unless there is significant customization, it is unlikely that the typical split-level starter home will include many items covered with copyright.
Why is this Crucial?
Possessing copyright gives you the sole authority to build the plans, as well as
- (i) copy them,
- (ii) create other custom plans based on them
- (iii) Most importantly, produce copies of them.
You and you alone have control over a copyright if you own it. Without your consent, the customer who toured your custom-built spec home or looked at your floor plan at the home show can’t recreate your plans or build the same house without violating your copyright and causing you harm.
How Can I better Safeguard myself?
Even with these safeguards at your disposal, you should still think about taking extra measures to alert others to your rights in the plans after their development.
Write it down.
The copyright for the plan belongs to whoever produced or sketched it out. If you frequently hire outside architects or engineers to create your drawings and plans, problems may occur. You must confirm in writing before the development of the scheme begins with the third party that all ownership in the designs, including the copyright, is a work for hire and is assigned to you if you have an original idea or plan that an artist, architect, or engineer helps you finalize.
Like this, you should consider establishing ownership of the plans with your prospective client by signing a Design Agreement. The client may claim ownership of or joint ownership alongside you of the ideas if they are working with you to develop a unique, customized plan. Although you might want to license the design or build homes with features similar to other people, the customer might be allowed to use the blueprint to construct their own home. The rights to the designs have to be made clear in a signed, written agreement with the client to guarantee that you have the copyright.
Make it a habit to submit your plans for approval to the US Copyright Office. Online registration is available. Although copyright registration is not required to win a copyright strategy, it does act to inform others of your rights and provide documentation of the time of the creation of the design. Registration is also necessary to file an infringement lawsuit in Federal Court. You also have the chance to obtain additional remedies like statutory damages, court costs, and attorneys’ fees if you register before someone copies your plans.
Implement Copyright Notices
Customers frequently ask another architect or builder to use the plans you gave them. You can persuade third parties to think twice before copying or using your designs without first being in touch with you by including a copyright notice on all copies of your plans. The copyright notice need only include your name, the date you created the procedures, and the phrase “All Rights Reserved” in the footer of each page. The plans should include a disclaimer that says they can only be copied, duplicated, or used with your prior written consent.
How Can I Stay Out of Trouble?
You should take precautions to ensure that you do not infringe on the rights of the other party’s protected works, just as you should protect your plans.
Ask about the origin of the country’s plans.
If a client, architect, or other third party gives you any plans, sketches, or drawings and asks you to build something for them or finish the designs for their property, be sure to ask where they got the plans from and if you can, them to confirm in writing that they have the right to use them and that they will hold you harmless if they don’t. If you copy someone’s original third-party plans, even if you are unaware of the source, you might find yourself accountable for copyright infringement. If the designs contain the logo or name of any other architect, or if it appears that such information has disappeared, proceed with caution and conduct further research before using the plans.
Legal Variations cannot stop infringement.
Remember that infringement requires that the plans be substantially similar to occur. Therefore, simply altering the size of a room or moving a window or door or two in an original custom plan without the copyright holder’s consent usually will not prevent a court from finding that you infringed on the original work when building or developing designs from an existing set. It is a general misconception within the industry.
Even though copyright law and your rights are frequently ambiguous subjects, the information above will better prepare you to protect your intellectual property assets and the money you’ve invested in distinctive custom home plans.