Plans, Plans, Plans

When you go to an architect, builder or designer, they will prepare plans showing what your new building, house or room will look like. They draw up ‘your’ plans. Often an owner assumes that because they have paid for some plans, they “own” the plans and can use them as they like. However, this is not always (or even often) the case. If you go to a homebuilder you will often enter into a preparation of plans agreement, under which the builder will draw up your house plans, based on one of its standard plans, but including any changes you have agreed with them, and the particular characteristics of your block.

How can I use plans created for me?

Often, the price you pay for those plans is a fraction of what you pay for plans to be drawn from scratch. The builder cuts the price on the plans in order to get you to build with them. The builder keeps the copyright in the plans (which means it can build another house to the same design) while giving you a licence to use these plans to build your house. Usually that licence is limited to building the one house, with the builder that provided the plans to you. This will often also be the case with smaller scale plans, such as ones provided by kitchen and bathroom companies. Because you are being provided with cheap plans, you could also be charged more for the plans if you do not go ahead.  Be careful to read the fine print when you sign up to have plans drawn up. If you wish to use plans to do works yourself or to get a quote from a third party, this needs to be made clear and agreed at the start.

Can I copy someone else’s plans?

The person that draws up the plans has, and will usually keep the copyright. This means that you cannot copy them or take them to another person (builder or architect) and ask them to draw up a new version of those plans, unless the copyright owner gives you the right to do so. This includes plans you may get from friends, or off the internet, unless they have been distributed on a copyright free basis.

What can I do, then, if I like what someone else has done?

Copyright protects the relevant design, the “picture” of the plans, not the underlying ideas behind them.  If there is a feature or aspect of someone’s designs that you like, you can provide instructions to your designer about the feature or aspect – along the lines of “I like having a skylight above the island bench” but you cannot ask them to copy the design and “just change it up a bit”. You can borrow someone’s ideas, but not the details of their design.  If you think about the plans as a photo, you can’t copy their photo, but you can take your own photo of the same beach at sunset.

And remember, if someone has provided you with good plans, they have done work which should be recognised and valued.


Our Guest Contributor:

Andrew Throssell is a partner at Hotchkin Hanly Lawyers, specialising in commercial, building and property law.


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