Residential builders are fighting back against people who steal their home designs at a time when intellectual property rights breaches in the recording and entertainment industries have been making headlines around the world.

One leading national residential building group, Integrity New Homes, is being proactive and is currently instigating legal action against two clients over copyright breaches - it is alleged the clients have taken Integrity’s plans and entered into contracts with third party companies to build the Integrity home designs.

Integrity New Homes Pty Ltd director, Glenn Leet, said: “We have invested tens of thousands of dollars in design time creating custom and project homes and will actively protect these valuable assets.

“The vast majority of people will not walk into a supermarket and shoplift groceries off the shelf, yet we are seeing an increase in people stealing part or all of our designs and then effectively committing robbery by getting third party companies to build homes using our designs,” Mr Leet said.

 “One of the defences that has been put forward is that the client changed the custom Integrity design by 10% and therefore no copyright has been breached.

“However, this is not the case, and as stated in the Australian Copyright Council’s information sheet on house plans copyright, if you have reproduced any important or distinctive elements of another person’s plans, you will not avoid infringement by making additions or changes.

“In some cases copying the facade or the balancing of external features may also infringe copyright,” Mr Leet said.

According to the Housing Industry of Australia, Senior Executive Director, Business, Compliance and Contracting, Mr David Humphrey, drawings, house plans and sketches are protected by the laws of copyright.

“This means the owner of the copyright has the exclusive right to use their own work.

“Other parties who infringe upon the owner’s exclusive right are in breach of copyright laws and can be subject to claims for damages (including loss of income) or an injunction,” Mr Humphrey said.  

Mr Leet said: “Integrity is not the only builder experiencing increased copyright infringements and we have anecdotal evidence from other residential builders that stealing plans, in part and in whole, is on the rise.”

Western Australia’s Mid West Diverse Contracting Pty Ltd Director, Mr Ben Schramm, said generally, and unless agreed otherwise in writing, copyright in a house plan is owned by the person who actually draws the plan even if that plan reflects another person’s concept.

“The exception to this applies to employees of architects, designers and or designer builders.

“One of the reasons confusion can genuinely occur is because there is no central register of copyright plans. As soon as original home designs are created and appear on a screen or in paper form the person or entity creating the design owns the copyright.

“The only exception would be where there is an agreement to the contrary, which may stipulate, for example, the client owns the copyright, not the drafting company that physically created a set of plans,” Mr Schramm said.