A lot of people don’t realize it before they begin to build a home, but there are a fair amount of legal matters involved in the process. One aspect that clients often ask us about is who owns the rights to a home’s architectural plans? The answer is a little complicated, so let us break it down for you.
Architectural Works Are Protected Under Copyright Laws
Architectural works created after 1990 are under copyright protection. The law defines architectural work as “the design of a building as embodied in any tangible medium of expression,” and this includes permanent habitable structures such as home, offices, churches, and museums. Not everything is covered under copyright, so designs for bridges, boats, and mobile homes are not protected.
This copyright protection is limited to original designs only. Functional elements required of a building or by local codes are not protected. This means standard fixtures in a home such as doors and windows can’t be legally protected under copyright.
The Homeowner Owns the Right to Build the Plans
Here’s where things get a little messy. Usually, when a homeowner pays for an architect’s services or purchases a home plan online, they are not purchasing the rights to these plans. The homeowner simply owns the rights to build the plans, but they do not own the plans themselves. This means that they can build the plan whenever, even if they do not build with the architect. If home plans are custom made, usually it means the architect cannot sell them to another client.
The Architect Owns the Rights to the Plans
So while the homeowner purchases the rights to build the plans, the rights of the plans itself typically stay with the architect that designs them. This means that if the client cannot sell the plans to someone else without the consent of the architect. So if you purchase plans from an architect, and for whatever reason do not build it, you can’t go and sell them to someone else.
This also means that a client can’t take the original plans to another architect and make changes to them. This is still an infringement of copyright laws. It’s like how in school students are not allowed to simply reword another person’s essay.
The Homeowner Can Add Additions…With Limitations
Now, this is where things get even more complicated. Let’s say you build a beautiful custom home using an architect’s plans but later on decide you want to build an addition onto the home. Legally, you do not need the original architect’s consent to add onto the home. However, you cannot use the original designs to expand or add to the building.
There May Be Special Considerations
Every architect-client relationship is different. When you begin the design process your architect will explain all of this in detail. Some home builders have different rules, which should be spelled out in the contract. Make sure you clarify any questions you have and get everything in writing.
The ownership of architectural plans is often something homeowners don’t think about until it’s too late. Ask your architect and clarify everything in the contract. Typically though, the homeowner purchases the right to build the plans the architect designs, but not the rights to the plans themselves. Contact us if you have any questions or if you want to get started building your dream custom home!