Hi Copyright Advisor,
From the other end of the spectrum, My local government council office wont give me a copy of my house plans for the purpose of lodging an application for additions and have told me to get authority from the copyright owner of the plans. Is this correct? The plans are for reference/research not reproduction as they would be re-drawn. Although by re-drawing that potrion of the plans as required by the council for the development (together with the new)- is this not reproduction & copyright breach?
I'm not sure other Council's have this practice. The Council in question has only introduced this policy in the last 6-12 months on the advice of a new legal staff member, but for all those years previously issued the plans.
Brief Answer: Yes, it would be consistent with copyright law that your Council is unable to provide you with copies of your house plan. Yes, re-drawing such house plan (instead of copying it) would also be copyright infringement.
1) In order to copy the plan, you need permission from the copyright owner.
2) In order to modify the plans and change the design to put in your additions, you need the permission to do so from the owner of the copyright to the house plans. You will need to get a license from the copyright owner to re-draw the plan, unless the license you were granted when you first bought the house plan already allows you to do all the acts that you now intend (make additions, re-draw the plan, etc.)
I would suggest you find out what rights you have under your contract with the creator of the house plan to ascertain the rights you have. You may want to consult a copyright lawyer or solicitor for this purpose.
My full answer and some informative links are below.
A house plan is a work protected by copyright. Copyright prevents anyone who is not the copyright owner and anyone without permission from the owner to modify or adapt the protected work. In having the plans re-drawn (rather than copied or reproduced) so you can presumably plan your additions (and draw your additions on the plan) accordingly, you are effectively modifying the house plan.
The Council also cannot copy or provide a copy of your house plan so you can use it as reference for your additions. Copying and reproduction are rights that belong to the copyright owner and the owner's licensees. If you wish to provide a copy to the builder you contracted for the additions, or even if you yourself will build the additions, you need to have a license from the copyright owner to do so (unless this permission has already been granted to you in your original contract).
It would be best to review the license you have to your house plan. Without seeing your contract, here are some basic ideas on what your license may not cover:
- When you (or your house's first owner, as the case may be) had your house built, you probably only had a license (permission) to use the plan to build that house at that time.
- The license presumably (again I am guessing here, as I have not seen the contract relating to the house plan) extended to you providing the plan to the builders, engineers, etc.
- You may not even have a license to build another house based on the same plan. Typically, you would need to buy another house plan for another house, even if you want the exact same plan as your first.
- Some licenses would allow modifications to the plan (and may allow building additions), some would not. Even if your license to your house plan allows you to make adjustments, you should be aware that the adjusted plan is a 'derivative work' of the original, and you cannot sell or reproduce that adjusted design without the original copyright owner's permission.
The rationale for all of the above is that copyright is an economic property right that belongs to the house plan creator. In other words, the architect or creator who sold the house plan bases his/her income on such house plans, and therefore protects the attached copyrights. Can you imagine how it might hurt the architect's business if the house plan created then belonged to the house owner, allowing the owner to do whatever s/he saw fit?
If you are in the US, here are some informative websites:
- American Institute of Building Design: House Plan Copyright Basics
- eHouse Plans Blueprint Copyright Law
In Australia, here are some helpful links:
- Australian Copyright Council paper on House Plans and Copyright
- Australian Housing Industry Association: Introduction to Copyright
I hope this helps. Feel free to post a follow-up question if you'd like more clarity on this matter.