Copyright Basics for Home Designers

Carl, I hired a draftsman/designer to draw my house plans. I like a lot of the details in my current home, but do not like others. My plans that he has drawn up have an added room (took a 2 story room, added a floor), changed windows, changed front elevation (rock and brick features) and added another exterior door.

My question is: Have I done anything wrong by making the new plans I paid to have drawn similar to the home that I live in? Thanks, Jeff

Hi Jeff, David Moore here. Carl forwarded your question to me since I'm an architect and somewhat familiar with copyright issues. You should consult a copyright attorney about this, but I'll wade in with my unofficial opinion. What you may have "done wrong" is to infringe on the copyrights of your homes original designer, but more facts are needed to determine if this is the case.

You said that you had "hired a draftsman/designer to draw my house plans", and I'm not quite sure what you meant by this. If your draftsman drew a new set of plans inspired by your existing house with a similar layout but a different appearance, you're probably OK with copyright issues. On the other hand, if your draftsman's plans are a copy of your existing house with the same measurements and your home's design has been copyrighted, you may have infringed on the designer's copyright.

According to "Copyright Basics for Home Designers and Builders", written by David E. Bennett, J.D. and published by the American Institute of Building Design, home designs are protected under "The Architectural Works Copyright Act" of 1990.

To quote Attorney Bennet: "this law requires a builder who wishes to copy a home design copyrighted by another person to obtain the permission of the original designer because the act of copying a constructed home infringes on the designer's copyright in the design of the building. The act of copying a constructed home through observation and measurement involves at least two acts of infringement. The first act of infringement occurs when creates a set of drawings as a preliminary step to the construction of the unauthorized home; the second act of infringement occurs when the builder constructs the unauthorized home".

I would first try to find out who designed your existing home. If the designer is a corporation or an individual still active in your area, I would make every effort to secure their permission to copy and modify the their original design. If the designer can't be located, especially if your existing home is older and traditional, copyright infringement is less of a concern.

David Moore, AIA
Original Home Plans
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