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Steven Wojcicki

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Why can't I just give a display home plan I like to my local builder?

16/08/2019

So you've found a building plan you like created by company XYZ, but you want another builder to undertake the build. It sounds straightforward doesn't it? However there is a significant issue to overcome here and if you get it wrong you could face serious consequences.

 

Why can't I use another builder's plans?

One word: Copyright. This is a term many of us are used to hearing in relation to musical scores, novels or poetry; essentially creative works. However the act of drawing the plans for a new and unique building is also a creative work. When drawings, sketches, blueprints or floor layouts are created, they are automatically protected by copyright. Even if you can't see the copyright symbol on the plans; the work is still protected by copyright.

If you find a building plan in a publicly available document, for instance a brochure or pamphlet, the plan is still most likely protected by copyright, just as books available to you in the public library are protected by copyright.

Copyright is what's known as an intellectual property right and it is recognised under federal law in the Copyright Act 1968. Breaches of copyright can be serious, (presumably that's why it's referred to as piracy).

 

What consequences could I face if I breach copyright?

Using copyright material without permission is obviously illegal and therefore if you're discovered using another builder's plans you could find yourself before the courts.

Depending on the level of the breach you could be looking at a number of different measures:

  1. You may be forced to pay compensation to the copyright owner.
  2. You could also be required to pay damages. The amount of compensation and damages will be determined by the court but to give you an idea; a 2016 case of building plan copyright breach heard in the Queensland Supreme Court saw homeowners ordered to pay $70,000 in damages and compensation.
  3. Perhaps the most severe penalty the courts can impose, if your house is still in the construction stage, is to issue you with an injunction - essentially stopping you from completing the build based on illegal use of copyright material. You could be forced to modify numerous aspects of the building to ensure it does not breach copyright.

Is there a way to avoid copyright breach but still use the plans I want?

Yes there is, and it involves acquiring permission from the copyright owner. If the copyright owner gives you permission to use their plans, either through a licence or assignment, you can proceed with peace of mind. Of course the copyright owner will generally charge you a fee to use their plans and they are entitled to do so.

If you go down this path, we recommend you get your lawyer involved so you're crystal clear on what you can and cannot do with the plans.

 

If you have your heart set on a particular house design based on a plan from another builder you can use the ideas you liked in the plan and ask your preferred builder to draw up a new plan. If you do this, to avoid the risk of copyright infringement, do not show your preferred builder the plan but simply ask them to create drawings based on the ideas in the original plan that appealed to you.

 

If you're thinking about creating a new home, contact us today.