Can you copy someone else’s building plans? Which case won?
Building designer engaged to create plans for unique house
A couple owned a block of land in Port Douglas, Queensland, and set out to build an architecturally unique house on the land. They engaged a building designer to assist and sent an email to the designer with their ideas for the house, which included proposed specifications, four pages of draft floor plans and two photographs of houses illustrating the architectural style the couple had in mind.
The building designer prepared detailed plans (“the building plans”) and the couple engaged a builder to undertake the construction. Sometime after the house was built, the couple listed and sold the property to a new owner.
Disappointed prospective purchasers commission builders to build identical house
Another couple who had hoped to buy the house but who had missed out were so impressed with its architecture and layout that they paid $1 million to the builders of the original house to build an identical house for them in the same estate in Port Douglas.
The new owner of the original house became aware of this and acquired the copyright to the building plans from the building designer who had created them, so as to ensure that his house would be the only house of its design in the area.
He put the building company and the couple who had commissioned the new house on notice that he held the copyright to the house plans and that he objected to the construction of a house identical to his.
Owner of original house sues for copyright infringement
The building company ignored this warning and constructed a house using the same building plans.
Shortly afterwards, the owner of the original house commenced legal action against the building company and the owners of the new house for infringement of copyright.