As a Nationally Published Home Design Firm, we have an obligation to help get the word out about Federal Copyright Law regarding home plans.
We care very much about our industry and want to get the right info into the right hands.
Just like books, movies, and songs, home plans receive protection under the federal copyright laws. The copyright laws prevent anyone, other than the copyright owner from reproducing, modifying, or reusing the house plans or home design without permission of the copyright owner (original designer). There is wrong information in the new construction industry and it can be devastating to homeowners, builders, subcontractors, mortgage lenders, as well as associated construction suppliers. Nobody wants to be on either end of a copyright infringement situation.
It is illegal to copy home designs found in a house plan book, magazine, brochure, CD-ROM or on the Internet. It is a common misunderstanding that making changes to or redrawing a plan found in a plan book is permissible. It is not. The right to modify plans is one of the exclusive rights of copyright. It is also illegal to copy or redraw a constructed home that is protected by copyright, even if you have never seen the building plans for the home. If you find a home plan that you like, you must purchase a set of plans from an authorized source.
Plans cannot be modified or redrawn without first obtaining the copyright owner's permission which is a home plan license to build or use. With your purchase of home plans, you are licensed to make non-structural changes by "red-lining" the purchased plans. If you need to make structural changes or need to redraw the plans for any reason, you must purchase a reproducible set of plans which includes a license to modify the plans. Blueprints do not come with a license to make structural changes or to redraw the plans. You may not reuse or sell the modified home design. No matter how much you change a design it is still a “derivative” of the designer original. This is where most copyright infringement lawsuits originate.
Reproducible plans aka masters on heavy bond paper (vellums, sepias or mylars are no longer available), CAD files, electronic files come with a license to make modifications to the plans. Once modified, the plans can be taken to a local copy shop or blue printer to make copies of the house plans to use in the construction of a single home. Only one home can be constructed from any single purchased set of reproducible plans either in original form or as modified. If you choose to build more than one structure you must have the permission from the designer (license to build) at the time of purchase or, contact the designer to relicense. This protects you from Federal Copyright Infringement.
Even if you are licensed to make modifications to a copyrighted design, the modified design is not free from the original designer's copyright. The sale or reuse or transfer of the modified design is strictly prohibited. Also, be aware that any house plan modifications relieves the designer from reliability for design defects and voids all warranties expressed or implied. But, the designer still owns copyright on any derivative design.
Plans, home blueprints or backline drawings cannot be copied or reproduced without prior written consent of the copyright owner. If additional sets are required for estimating or construction, please contact the home designer for additional sets at a nominal cost. Copy shops and blue printers are prohibited from making copies of these plans.
The original purchaser of house plans is typically licensed to build a single home from the plans. Building more than one home from the plans without permission (multi-license to build) is an infringement of the home designer's copyright – Federal Copyright Law. Unless otherwise specified, you should assume that construction sets typically include 4 to 8 plan sets. The purchase of sets of plans is for the construction of a single home only. The purchase of additional sets of plans does not give you the right to construct more than one home.
Any party who participates in a copyright violation may be responsible including the purchaser, designers, architects, engineers, drafters, homeowners, builders, contractors, sub-contractors, copy shops, blueprinters, developers, and real estate agencies. It does not matter whether or not the individual knows that a violation is being committed. You've heard it before: Ignorance of the law is not a valid defense! Refuse to be a party to any illicit copying or use of designs, derivative works, prints, design features, or homes.
Penalties for violating a copyright may be severe. The responsible parties are required to pay actual damages caused by the infringement (which may be substantial), plus any profits made by the infringer commissions to include all profits and from the sale of any home built from an infringing design. The copyright law also allows for the recovery of statutory damages, which may be as high as $150,000.00 for each infringement. Finally, the infringer may be required to pay legal fees which often exceed the damages.
In the event of any suspected violation of a copyright, or if there is any uncertainty about the home building plans you have purchased, the publisher, architect, designer or the Council of Publishing Home Designers should be contacted before proceeding. Awards are sometimes offered for information about home design copyright infringement. Our construction industry must improve and this is a key factor in keeping federal court out of the equation.