Who owns architecture plans? You paid for the service, not the plan

If you are a typical owner, you expect to “own” your plans after you hire an architect and pay them to create a design for you.  That is not exactly how it works because any set of plans has tricky liability and copyright issues. We will explain these issues and how the industry standard of the owner having the right to build the project while the architect owns the copyright is very reasonable.
First we’ll share an infuriating scenario that really is the architect’s fault: Fairly often, an owner hires an architect, they progress through a certain amount of design and the relationship or project is just not working out. The owner decides to fire the architect and the architect says “This is my design, you can’t use it in any way unless we negotiate a price and you buy it from me”. This happens.
The owner’s mind is blown! Imagine you just paid thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for someone to work for you and then they tell you that he or she “owns” what he was just paid to do? That’s simply not how any typical employer/employee relationship works.
While a nightmare, this is a communication error that can be easily mitigated and it is the architect’s responsibility to explain why the plans are copyrighted.
Most importantly, what you want as an owner is typically the right to build your project. This is what you get with New Avenue.  Many (but not all, and not even most) architects follow this practice too.
There is a nuance with architectural plans that is similar to buying a book. When you buy a book you can read it and keep it on your bookshelf.  You can’t edit it or start making copies to sell.  You have the right to use the documents created by the architect for your project in the same way.  This is similar to having the right to buy and own any copyrighted material.
Frankly, you can stop working with your architect, or you can hire another architect or you can hire your own contractor and in each scenario you can use the plans.
There are two big limitations though:
1.  You don’t have the right to replicate the designs or use them build another home on another site. There are several reasons for this:
– There are always specific site conditions that need to be considered by the architect for plans to be safe to use.
– An additional project increases the legal liability of the architect so it is not allowed.
– You did not pay for the vast majority of the “details” in the plans.  Details are often times dozens of intricate drawings for how to assemble a part of the project.  These are crafted over decades and are used over and over again on projects.  Since you, as the owner, did not pay for the years of development to make them, you don’t own the right to use them or copy them.

2. You don’t have the right to use incomplete plans to build the home because this creates liability for the architect who created the plans. For example, you can pay to just sketch up a floorplan in the Schematic Design (Phase II in our process) and then stop. You can then use these completed Phase II documents (i.e., the floor plan and design) to work with another designer or architect.   But you can’t get half way through the construction documents (Phase IV in New Avenue’s process) and then fire the architect and try to build the home with an incomplete set of drawings.  This also creates liability as mistakes inevitably occur and it leads to liability, and lower quality construction that leads to lawsuits.

In conclusion, you can stop working on your plans and keep the portion of the work that is completed and this is for the one project that the plans are for.  If you want to finish an incomplete set of plans you typically start all over with a new architect however you may be able to sign a release from the original architect who then allows the new architect to finish the plans. This involves a release agreement that releases the first architect from the liability that the new architect will assume.  Then you can continue the plans from that point forward.

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