A cautionary tale – architects’ copyright

Developers need to take care not to infringe copyright in architect’s drawings.

In a recent case, the High Court held that copyright in an architect’s drawings was infringed by a developer. The Court made an order for damages to be assessed.

Facts

A property developer obtained planning permission to construct a block of flats on the basis of the drawings of its architect but was unable to secure finance to buy the development site. The site was sold by the owner. The copyright in the drawings was owned by the architect who had been employed by the non-purchasing developer.

The planning permission required the development to be built in accordance with the architect’s drawings. These were published on the local planning authority’s planning portal with a copyright notice that limited their use to consultation purposes.

The architect had assigned the copyright to the original non-purchasing developer and it was he who sued the ultimate buyer for the infringement of the copyright in the building, marketing and promotion of the development.

The buyer argued that he had implied licence from the architect to use the drawings as it had paid a premium for the planning permission. However, the buyer also admitted that it had obtained the drawings from the planning authority’s portal, and although it had engaged its own architects to prepare drawings, because the build had to satisfy the conditions of the planning permission, the new architect’s drawings were sufficiently similar to the original architects as to amount to an infringement.

Comment

This case demonstrates the inherent danger of buying land with the benefit of planning permission where the build-out is not carried out by the person who obtained the planning permission. It underlines the importance of obtaining either an appropriate assignment of the copyright or a licence to use the relevant drawings in order to avoid infringement of copyright in the drawings on which the planning permission is based.

Another case of buyer beware!

Case: Signature Reality Limited v Fortis Developments Limited and Another [2016 EWHC 3583 (CH].

For further information on property development, architects’ copyrights or commercial developments, speak with one of our commercial property solicitors.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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Roderick Campbell

Partner, Head of Commercial Property

Rod has specialised in property law for over 20 years concentrating on commercial property for the last 7 years. He handles a broad range of...

Partner, Head of Commercial Property

Roderick Campbell

Rod has specialised in property law for over 20 years concentrating on commercial property for the last 7 years. He handles a broad range of commercial transactions for both businesses and individuals. He has developed a particular expertise in dealing with restrictive covenants, options, conditional contracts and overage.

He is a member of the Law Society Property Group, the LawNet Commercial Property Group and Mensa. In order to further enhance his knowledge and skills in 2007 Rod took on the arduous task of studying for, and passing with Distinction, an LL.M Masters Degree in Advanced Commercial Property Law through Northumbria University. He achieved the highest combined score with his first 4 assignments and was awarded top prize by Butterworths/Lexis Nexis.

In 2008 he published a book on “Methods of Securing Development Land Overage”.

Roderick’s clients regularly describe him as “very good to deal with”, “clear, direct, straightforward, efficient and effective.” Another client commented: "Roderick Campbell provided extremely helpful, insightful, and totally professional advice. He was much more useful than other solicitors involved in the transaction."

His most memorable case was an Option Agreement concerning an M25 service area which lasted for some 12 years.

Rod joined Hart Brown as a trainee in 1983, qualifying in 1985 and became a partner in 1988.

Here are Rod’s answers to a brief interview about his interests and achievements.

What are your interests?
I am a keen swimmer and in 1999 I was the captain of a team of 6 who swam the English Channel. We raised £5,000 for the RNLI. I also enjoy skiing, surfing, walking and mountaineering.

What would you have done if you had not become a lawyer?
Airline pilot.

Notable achievements
Apart from swimming the English Channel, obtaining a private pilots licence before I could drive (courtesy of winning a Royal Navy special Flying Award, whilst still at school).

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