Architectural Design Copyright

Architectural Design Copyright

A magistrate’s court decision this week upheld a judgement against a couple who decided to ignore a simple copyright notice and walk an architectural design down-the-road to a project home builder.

The couple’s defence lawyer foolishly decided not to examine discovery documents and was left extremely embarrassed once the matter fell under the magistrate’s nose. The attempt to brazenly take intellectual property by the defendants and project home builder was evident during discovery and the magistrate upheld precedents set by higher courts regarding architectural design copyright and reinforced the provisions contained within the Architects Act 2004 and Copyright Act 1968 (Commonwealth).  The court order reinforced the defendant’s obligation to pay for the architectural design copyright and legal costs. These Acts prevent people from copying or reproducing an architectural design in any material form, without first obtaining the author’s consent.

The practice of taking an architectural design is unfortunately widespread in the building industry but court precedents outlaw the conduct and have shifted significantly in the favour of the original author in recent decades. The legal concepts pertaining to copyright are now far more complex but the act of shopping around an architectural design can be a costly mistake for clients trying to drive a building budget down. Although some project home builders flagrantly infringe architectural design copyright of an original author; they paradoxically use the legal process as another lucrative revenue stream against parties who may unwittingly infringe their own copyright.

The provisions in the Architects Act 2004 do not obligate the original author to use the copyright symbol on architectural drawings to evidence architectural design copyright. The Architects Act 2004 only permits clients to use an architectural design once for their site so the premise that you can change an architectural design at least 20% and not infringe design copyright is an outdated misconception based on superseded court precedents and will not protect property owners who intend to run the copyright gauntlet. The complex test of copyright infringement depends on how different the end result is from the original building design and whether a substantial part of the design be recognised as the original author’s work.

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