Home design copyright infringement considerations

by | Mar 28, 2023 | Advice & inspiration, Building basics & regulations, Building tips

We’ve all heard the term copyright, usually about movies, music, books and other creative endeavours. What you might not have known is that copyright also applies to home designs. Copyright law isn’t just something lawyers need to be aware of, because copyright infringement is easy enough to do if you’re not aware. Today, we’re bringing you Buildi’s guide to home design copyright infringement considerations. We’ll take a closer look at home design copyright. Specifically, we’ll talk about what copyright protects, steps you can take to avoid infringing, and tips regarding a building design vs an architect.

Home design copyright

What are the home design copyright laws?

The general principle of home design copyright laws is the same as it is in other fields (like artistic work) and industries: they’re there to protect a creator’s intellectual property. The Copyright Act in Australia provides building designers exclusive rights to all of the following:

  • reproducing their work in material form
  • publishing their work,
  • sharing their work with the public

Here’s an example of what would be a copyright infringement: say you went to speak to Builder A and were shown a floor plan that you loved. However, once you saw their price you thought it was too much and decided to go to another builder, let’s call them Builder B. If you were to take Builder A’s plan to Builder B and they agreed to proceed with it, that would be copyright infringement. Builder A would be well within their rights to take legal action against you. Even if a small part of your plan is substantially similar to the pre-existing design, you could land in hot water.

If you’re interested in someone else’s design, all hope isn’t lost. The purpose of copyright is to both protect intellectual property and help ensure creators are duly compensated. A building designer or original creator will expect you to pay a license fee for their work. However, expensive this is, it’s a lot less expensive than fighting a copyright claim.

What is protected by copyright?

The creator of work, in this case, the building designers or architects, are the assumed copyright owner of their work. This means they have automatic rights when it comes to their drawings, house designs and artistic works. If you wish to use their work you’ll need to seek permission and possibly pay a license fee.

You cannot download a design from the website of one designer and ask another builder to construct it for you. Any original design that you haven’t paid for or reached an agreement to use that you use, is considered copyright infringement.

What isn’t copyright infringement?

The exceptions to copyright are general ideas, styles and techniques. You can’t copyright a concept. What does that mean? For example, if one builder came up with a double-storey Hamptons-style home with two bathrooms, a pool and an alfresco area, but you then part ways, you can ask for another designer to create a home with all the above ideas, so long as you don’t directly copy the first design.

If you have any doubt, seek legal advice. Though they will be some legal costs, it won’t be anything compared to being taken to civil court.

Using a design and construct builder vs an architect

When it comes to home design, you have the option of choosing a pre-existing design or creating your own floor plan. Let’s take a look at both standard designs and custom designs.

Standard Design

A standard design is one the builder has pre-designed and, most likely, has built many times before. For example, when you look on the Metricon website and see all the floor plans, these are all standard designs. Most builders will have a range of home designs they’ll use multiple times.

Pros of Standard Designs

  • all the design work has been done already
  • The builder will be familiar with this design, which can cut down on build times.
  • Costs are more predictable (but nowhere near as set in stone as the builder will lead you to believe!)

Cons of standard designs

  • Less flexibility
  • Less input and say into how the house is built
  • Any changes you wish to make might be expensive
  • The standard design may not suit your block orientation or terrain.

Custom Design

Advantages of doing the plan yourself

  • By hiring an architect or designer and owning the plan outright, you’ll avoid both the trappings of copyright (providing you don’t steal your ideas)
  • you won’t be at the mercy of the builders when it comes to choice
  • You can design the exact plan you want.
  • Designing your own floor plan gives you copyright and complete control over your design.

Cons of Custom Design

  • More expensive to build. The house has never been built before, so there will be extra planning and labour costs.
  • On average, custom homes take longer to build.
  • Materials costs may be higher, especially if you’ve gone with something unique.
  • Much harder to predict final costs until you’ve finished the design.
  • Not everyone is natural when it comes to design. It may be more difficult than you think.

Our tips for avoiding copyright infringement laws of building plans

  • Ask for permission to use any plans or designs. If they say no, respect the decision instead of trying to sneak it by.
  • Many builders have plans that are similar in design, so you may be able to find something close to your
  • If you’re worried about infringing copyright with your house plan, seek legal advice.
  • There’s a common belief that as long as you change 10% of a floor plan, you’ll avoid breaching copyright. This is all a bit of an urban myth as there’s no legal basis for this. If you stole just 10% of an existing floor plan, you can still be sued for that.
  • If you like a building designer’s work, ask them if they are willing to permit you.

Questions to ask yourself?

  1. Is your plan a substantial reproduction of an existing floor plan?
  2. Did you copy your design or just the concept?
  3. Was what you copied the designer’s original plans or just a generic floor plan?
  4. Is it possible to gain permission? Furthermore, do you have signed permission to prove everything is above board?

What happens if you breach copyright?

If you use design plans without the permission of the copyright holder it can end up in court. Building designers have automatic rights and ownership of their work, so you’ll need to prove you didn’t copy their original plan.

If the court finds the plan, drawings or anything is an infringement on the creator, it can have severe results. Construction can be halted, and you may have to pay the infringed party’s legal costs. In very serious cases, jail time can be served, but this is usually only in bigger, commercial endeavours. Beyond this, you’ll need to change your plans and changes that happen during mid-construction are never cheap.

Anyone who’s had to go through a court procedure will tell you it can be an expensive exercise, especially if you are found guilty at the end. It may seem like a pain to ask permission and disappointing to be told no, but the alternative is worse.

Potential damages & costs involved with copyright infringement of house design plans

The severity of the damages will depend on the degree of your copyright infringement and where in the building process you’re up to. In the early stage, you may receive a cease and desist letter. Further along, however, you run the risk of going to court. If the result doesn’t go your way, you’ll have to pay damages.

Need help? Get free advice from an experienced building broker

Don’t let your dream home turn into a nightmare. Worried about copyright issues or want some guidance during your building process? We’re here to help! Buildi is a building broker service that’s here to give a voice back to the customers. With our expert advice and guidance, you’ll save thousands of dollars, avoid common mistakes and save yourself hours of time. Get in touch today to see how we can help you!

Click here to book your free, impartial consultation today!


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Building a Home

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Home designs

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Building a Home

Knockdown Rebuild

Home designs

Advice & inspiration