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Someone has used our plans and planning permission without asking us

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My parents planned to purchase a property last year subject to planning permission for rennovation. I spent hours designing the perfect home for them. We instructed an architect and we agreed a price of around £800 he put plans together based on my design.


The plans were rejected by planning based on the comments of 2 neighbours - so we had to amend the design and resubmit. We got the permission, but not without a lot ot stress, time and expense - the architects bill was £2000 in the end! Then the sale on my parents house fell through and they were unable to purchase the property.


The architect assured us that the plans and our planning permission could not be used and the person that was now buying the property liked my design and wanted to approach us to purchase the plans. But once he found out the cost (which was considerably higher because of all the architects visits to the planners and a redraw), we didn't hear anything.


The buyers have gone ahead with the build, put in a very small amendment and have been granted permission based on our application. No changes have been been made to the plans, but they did not have permission from us to use them.


The architect's name is on the planning application, I can only assume that he has double crossed us as he promised that he would not allow them to use the plans unless they paid half of the fees. He may be on holiday - but he hasnt replied toe me yet.


This is unethical at best, but I have no idea if we have any legal rights as even though the architect owns the copyright - it was all based on my thorough design.


Does anyone know where I stand legally - can I do anything or is it legal to just use someone's planning permission? It is very annoying to have been landed with all the bills, whilst either the buyer gets off scot-free, or the architect gets more money for the job we paid him to do for us.



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This could be deemed as theft of intellectual property, but I think although you have a good chance of winning, you woudl need a solicitor to act for you. As a matter of interest how did the architect becoem invovled with the new buyers unless he approached them with a view to selling the plans? The new buyers may be totally innocent and think that the design was the architect's.

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Thanks for putting a reply.


When the sale fell through - the property went back onto the market and the name of the architect was on the planning application available on line to everyone.


I know that applying for planning permission prior to sale means that the plans can be used in the public domain by anyone - I dont have a problem with anyone wanting to use them, but we would have wanted compensation of course.


I have not heard back from the architect - he was approached by the buyer who said he wanted to use them, he knew that they had been paid for in full by us. He was supposed to contact us and divide the cost of the plans and the architect would then allow him to use them. The architect just failed to keep my informed!


When I questioned why this had not happened - he said that the guy had every intention of paying for them and it was a condition of using them, but really that I had no rights to the plans (even though I designed the internal thoroughly myself - the exterior had to be changed to abide with the planners).



The situation is at best "lax" and is based on the trust that this guy is going to follow through on his word - hopefully this will happen, but I will be annoyed if it doesn't! But the architect says that he has the copyright that he can do whatever he likes with them without my say so - but he was trying to do me a favour in getting some of the money back.


I have no desire to fall out with anyone and hopefully the architect will follow through on his word that he will tackle the buyer if he does not honour his promise - but he says that he is a gentleman (a gentleman would not have used them without asking first in my book!)


I just wonder if I have any protection at all from this situation!


Many thanks

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  • 3 weeks later...

Does this come under services bought and paid for law as well as intellectual property and copyright laws? I would assume you paid for a service which consisted of having your plans drawn up by an architect for the sake of showing nice, neat drawings to the planning board - note: your plans - and the service provided by the architect was purely that, a service that you paid for with little or no input on his/her behalf to changing the aforementioned plans by more than a third and in your employment to render your plans suitable for the planning board. Ergo the plans belong to you and not to anyone else?


The architect surely has no legal right to offer these plans to anyone else and should have contacted you with a view to purchasing the right to use those plans for another client – or is it that my own ideas of law here are wrong?


To me it seems common sense to think that once a service such as drawing up plans that belong to a client has been paid for, then those plans remain very much the client’s and would expect the architect to prove otherwise and justify why he sold plans that did not belong to him to new clients.


If you can prove by a date on some original drawings/plans that these are yours before you approached the architect in question, then I’d say you have a good chance to get back at least some of the money you paid for as well as court costs.




Copyright Legislation


The Copyright, Designs and Patents Act UK, clearly states that the first owner of copyright in a work is the author of the work. Due to the structure of the law, the author of a work is not necessarily the first owner of copyright. The author is the person who created the original protectable elements of the work, or played a non-trivial role in creating the work. Usually this is the person who reduces the idea to a material form, but is not necessarily the case, for instance where a person dictates a letter or other material, which is reduced to writing by a stenographer. Copyright is owned by the person dictating the material.


Ownership is qualified by the factual circumstances in which the work was authored. Where the copyright work is a literary, dramatic, musical, artistic work, or a film, and an employee authored the work in the course of their employment, the employer is the first owner of any copyright in the work subject to a written agreement to the contrary.


So, if the person made the copyright work in the course of their employment, their employer is the first owner of copyright. The next step to determining ownership is whether copyright has been assigned by the first owner to another legal entity. The generally accepted meaning of employment is a relationship where the employee has agreed that in return for some form of payment, they will provide their own work and skill in the performance of their services; they will be subject to another′s control of a sufficient degree to constitute an employer; and the other terms of contract are not inconsistent with the type of provisions found in employment contracts. If the contract falls within this description, the work must still have been created in the course of the employment under that contract.


End Quote


I suggest you look for a solicitor that specializes in copyright law with a view to asking their opinion on whether or not to proceed on the merits of your case.


Good luck.

Edited by understanding
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  • 5 months later...

I have no idea how you got along with this, or whether you've taken it any further.

Another avenue to explore - at no cost to yourself would be a complaint to RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), as to call yourself an Architect in England you have to belong to this group and they have very strict rules on guidelines on membership - this case seems to me something they would not look favorably on and I believe they would certainly contact the architect with a view to asking him to explain himself.

It may not get you your money back, but on the other hand - it may do if the architect realises he has infringed some rule and needs to satisfy RIBA he has done everything to redeem the situation.

Worth a try anyway.

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