Home Design Copyright – What You Need to Know
What is copyright?
Copyright in Australia is governed by the Copyright Act (1968). Under the Act, copyright is an automatic right, protecting any expression of an original idea. This gives building designers exclusive rights to:
- Reproduce the work (building design) in a material form;
- Publish the work; and
- Communicate the work to the public
There is no formal process that a house designer must follow in order to gain the benefit of copyright, as copyright protection arises automatically from the time the house design is given “material form” such as a sketch or model.
What is not covered under copyright laws?
Copyright does not protect ideas, information or concepts, nor does it extend to all design features that are generic to all buildings, such as doors, windows and roofs.
For example, if a building designer formulates an idea of an open plan house with high ceilings, arched doorways and a flat roof, the idea is not in itself protected by copyright. However, a drawing or model which incorporates these features of the idea will be protected.
This means that, for example, if you find a house design online, you cannot simply take it to your builder and have them build it, unless you gain written permission from the designer themselves.
However, if you enlist an independent architect or house designer (i.e they don’t work for one specific builder) to design your home and you pay them accordingly, there is an implied licence for you to use that design and take it to the builder of your choice.
Remember, if you are ever in doubt, always seek legal advice.
What happens if copyright is breached?
If a building designer discovers that any substantial part of their work has been reproduced without their express permission, they are entitled to launch civil proceedings in court against the infringing party.
After looking at the evidence presented, it is then at the discretion of the court to determine whether substantial reproduction has taken place, as the circumstances vary from case to case. The common belief that copyright infringement can be avoided by changing 10% of the design is false and has no legal basis.
If the court does find that a designer has infringed on another creator’s intellectual copyright, they may be ordered to stop construction or be liable for damages payable to the copyright owner, including any legal costs. In some cases, copyright infringement at a commercial level can even be considered a criminal offence.
What can you do?
There are multiple ways you can go about obtaining a house design that won’t get you into legal trouble. One way would be to choose your builder and have them make you a design, which they will then build themselves. Another way would be to approach an independent house designer/architect, and pay them to design you a house that you can then take to a builder of your choice. Or, if you see a design you like, you can approach the designer and ask permission to use their design. The designer can then grant a licence or assign their copyright to you, usually for a fee. In this case, it is strongly advised to have a written final agreement between you and the building designer that is signed and dated.
When it comes to ensuring the viability of your house design, the best thing to do is to not copy any designs and take all the required legal steps.
Remember, we are not lawyers and therefore if you are ever unsure if you are infringing upon copyright law, or any other laws for that matter, make sure to seek legal advice.