Growing Your Business: How Reusing Architectural Plans Can Set You Up for Real Trouble

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Business & Real Estate Attorney

When you hire an architect to design your home, business, or commercial property, the architectural plans you receive from him/her have copyright protections attached to them.  This means that if you use them to build another structure, you or your contractor can be held liable for copyright infringement.  It’s not just limited to blueprints you receive from the architect.  Any sort of drawing, computer-generated program or draft, and the finished buildings constitute architectural works that are subject to the copyright laws.

Copyright infringement occurs when the infringer copies elements of an original work, which is owned by someone other than him or her.  The infringer must have had access to the copyrighted work and construct something that is substantially recognizable to the original building.  The defense of “I didn’t know this is copyrighted” is not a valid defense in a court.  Penalties for using an architectural plan in violation of the Copyright Act include the actual damages incurred by the owner of the plan, statutory damages (up to $30,000 if by accident or up to $150,000 if willful), profits of the infringer, attorney’s fees and costs.

So how do you remedy this situation?  Make sure when receiving an architectural drawing or plan you remove language in the agreement that says the drawings belong solely to the architect who provided them, and allows you as the purchaser to re-use the plans if you so choose to, and allows for indemnification from any claims of copyright infringement by third-parties.  If you are a construction contractor, demand indemnification by your client should you be sued for copyright infringement.  Avoid losing money in a lawsuit with the architect over whether there was a violation of his or her rights under the Copyright Act.

To discuss your NJ Business & Real Estate matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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