When a client approaches a builder with their own plan it is the builder’s responsibility to ensure they are not in breach of any copyright prior to accepting the job. The plan may belong to another builder who is recognised as the owner, and failure to gain permission to use the documents from the owner provides grounds for litigation.
Copyright is a form of legislation protecting a range of materials such as artistic work, which includes sketches, architectural drawings, blueprints and buildings themselves. It is vital that builders are familiar with Australian copyright law and any other legislation that can affect their business.
According to the Australian Copyright Council, house plans, including those produced by project home companies, are protected by copyright and are owned by the creator of the work. If the creator is employed by a company and is fulfilling their role as an employee, then the plans belong to the employer.
Copyright does not protect:
- An idea
- A style
- A technique
What is protected is the way these factors are expressed through design, plans, drawings, models and buildings. In some copyright cases, businesses have been sued as a result of simply INTENDING to replicate one small detail of a plan, although this can be difficult to prove.
As a builder it is your responsibility to ensure you are adhering to the Copyright Act appropriately. If a client brings in their own plan the first question you should ask is ‘who does the plan belong to?’ If a client can provide permission to use the plans from the original owner then the builder cannot be sued for infringement of copyright, however if a client is unable to provide this information the builder should not accept the job.
Modifying plans does not remove the copyright associated with the design, if there is proof the original document has been replicated then there are grounds for litigation. This is not to say that every single plan or design has to be individual and unique, if plans appear similar by coincidence there is no infringement.
Copyright is useful for builders who manage their own business as any plan, sketch or blueprint developed and owned by the business is automatically protected by the Copyright Act. Hotondo Homes’ franchisees have access to all home designs created by the business. These designs are owned and protected by Hotondo Homes and copyright legislation.
All franchisees receive advice regarding their operations and are aware of the Act and its repercussions in order to avoid litigation; however it is their responsibility to ensure their operations are lawful.
If you would like to join the Hotondo Homes network, visit franchise.hotondo.com.au/join-the-family/
For more information regarding the Australian Copyright Act please visit https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2016C00520
*Hotondo Homes are not legal experts. You should always seek independent legal advice when referencing copyright law