Which case won?

casea
The case for the new owner of the original house
  • While it is true that one of the original owners sent an email to the building designer setting out some rough ideas for the house they had in mind, the final building plans were significantly more detailed and amounted to an original artistic work.
  • The building designer who created them was the owner of the copyright in those plans and those rights were validly assigned to me.
  • My house was previously unique. The new house that has been constructed by the building company has substantially reproduced the building plans, infringing my copyright.
  • The court should order that modifications be made to the new house and that compensation be paid to me.
caseb
The case for the owners of the new house
  • We deny any copyright infringement on two grounds.
  • First, the construction of the new house did not substantially reproduce the building plans. The new house was different in several respects and was not an exact replica.
  • Second, even if the court disagrees on the first point, we dispute that the building designer was the true author of the building plans. The email sent by the original owners contained detailed design specifications and the designer’s building plans did not substantially depart from those specifications.
  • Accordingly, any copyright in the building plans is owned by the original owners and therefore the building designer could not validly assign those rights to the new owner, so the new owner has no standing to sue.
  • For all these reasons, there is no infringement of the new owner’s copyright and the action must fail.

So, which case won?

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a41%
b59%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

Rita LahoudParalegal
“The court did not deny that the email sent to the building designer, containing the original owners’ rough ideas for the house they had in mind, was also an original work in which copyright subsists – however, it was a separate work to the actual building plans themselves.”
Ownership of the building plans

In the case Coles v Dormer & Ors [2015] QSC 224, the court found that the building plans were substantially different from the email sent by one of the original owners to the building designer. The building plans contained detailed structural and architectural plans, including elevations and considerably more information, including technical information.

The court noted that by the time of the third revision of the building plans, the building designer had spent 112 ½ hours working on them.

In addition, the building plans contained design features such as exterior arched windows and round windows, which did not appear in the email sent by the original owners. The court did not deny that the email was also an original work in which copyright subsists – however, it was a separate work.

The court was not convinced by the argument put forward by the building company and the owners of the new house, that the building plans were merely a continuum of the rough ideas and plans set out in the original owner’s email.

The court determined that the building designer was the owner of the building plans and that he had effectively transferred the copyright to these plans to the owner of the original house, who was therefore now the rightful owner of the building plans.

Infringement of copyright due to copying of building plans on a substantial scale

The court found that the plans for the new house were a copy of the building plans for the original house. It was held that the extent of the copying was particularly obvious, because even errors in the original plans were replicated in the plans for the new house.

For example, in one instance, an error in the building plans concerning window height was replicated in the plans for the new house. In another instance, a reference to the location of a bathroom window in the original building plans was replicated in the plans for the new house, even though a variation in the layout of the new house, necessitated by the nature of the block, meant that the window should have been on the opposite side.

In the view of the court, it was obvious that “copying on a substantial scale must have occurred”.

Owner of original house seeks injunction and damages

The owner of the original house had sought an injunction to prevent the construction of the new house, in addition to damages. The court noted that the copyright infringement had resulted in the very outcome he had taken lawful steps to prevent – that is, the loss of uniqueness of his house by the building of a replica of it.

However, by the time the case was heard by the court, the new house had been completed. The judge noted that the building company and the owners of the new house chose to press on and build it after being warned of the consequences, adding: “Indeed, they continued to build… knowing this action was afoot.”

Court orders owners of new house to make extensive modifications to its exterior

While the court decided that it would be an overly harsh and disproportionate punishment for the owners of the new house to be forced to demolish it, it was determined that significant changes could be made to the exterior of the new house, so that it would no longer appear identical to the original house.

The court held that the owners of the new house had to alter or remove various external features of the new house which constituted an infringement of the copyright held by the owner of the original house.

This included, amongst other things, removing the dormer roofs, removing exterior arched and circular windows and replacing them with rectangular or square windows, and grinding, cutting away or removing any stone edge trim corners which were at the front of the house or were visible from any public path or street.

Court orders damages to be paid to owner of original house

In a further case the following year, Coles v Dormer & Ors (No 2) [2016] QSC 28, the defendants – being the owners of the building company and the couple who owned the new house – were also ordered to pay the owner of the original house $70,000 in damages.

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