You wouldn’t buy a book and then claim rights to the story just because you own it in hard copy. So isn’t it funny, or maybe it’s not, how a new design can find its way into the hands of a client or third party who thinks that a price paid equals full ownership?
At best, clients don’t always understand an architect’s intellectual property rights. At worst, copyright infringement costs you money. But you can help protect yourself and your designs by taking a few steps on the front side.
Register Your Copyright
There’s a saying that writers love to use: copyright flows from the pen. That means the minute you create an original work that is copyright-eligible, you already own that copyright. That’s a good start, but it doesn’t have an impressive history of defense in court. You need to register your copyright to enjoy a fuller protection under the law.
Copyright registration asserts your ownership over the work, which in this case is your designs. Work with a copyright attorney the first time you register your copyright, Fennemore Craig law firm director, Ray Harris recommends to Architect magazine. The process is intended to be simple enough for a layperson to navigate, but she’ll help smooth out any bumps in the road.
Keep Excellent Records
You already keep your designs, but you might take it one step further, suggests Pepper Hamilton firm partner, M. Kelly Tillery. Keep detailed records of all of your works, including dates, which help establish the earliest possible point in time for your creation and ownership.
Using digital mediums helps, he explains. The metadata available is a time stamp. Just be sure that old data isn’t overwritten entirely when you work on future versions, including if the originals are scrapped. The date of creation is important for the earliest versions, too.
Spell out Ownership to Clients
Because most clients truly don’t understand intellectual property rights and your ownership of your designs, you need to put it in writing. Kenneth Cobleigh, ATA Contract Documents managing director and counsel, says you should aim for avoiding legal snags altogether by drafting an agreement that’s as sound as you can make it.
Just because you license the client to use your designs doesn’t mean he owns them. But he might not understand that. With an agreement in advance, there will be no confusion on his part and no hard feelings on yours.
Architectural designs are as protected against copyright infringement as the story in a book by any author. But because of the nature of designs and how they are used by clients, the edges of ownership can become blurred.
The AIA has model legal documents for architects, which are available in bundles or for piecemeal costs as needed. Using these documents saves time and helps you cover all your bases. They can also help you build out a more comprehensive document of your own in the future.
The work of an architect is seemingly never done. When you’re not striving to protect your property, you’re working to keep licensure in effect. At PDH Academy, we can help with the latter. Check out our courses for architects to see how straightforward and stress-free continuing education can be.