Copyright Infringement? Am I correct?

spaganoAugust 23, 2012

I recently stopped at a newly built house I love to ask if I could take a few exterior photos. The owner was very welcoming, inviting me in, showing me around, explaining the changes they made to the floor plan, etc. She gave me the name of the floor plan and the design site (it's a 'new old house') as well as her builder, who she raved about. Checked out the house site and fell in love, checked out the builder site, eh. Not bad but not much info. Found the builder was having an open house (spec) so BF and I went to take a look just to get a feel for his work. The owner of the company was there and while he was a very nice man I was not impressed with his building, explanations or materials used. (I think GW has spoiled me for quality at all price levels). But the main thing that bothered me was this: When I told him I heard about him through a previous customer and we asked about his experience with the company that supplied (or so we thought) the panels we learned that he actually stick built the house using their plans. He claims he "made a lot of changes so the inside is much different, it's not really their design inside" I'm not an expert but-no he didn't. A few feet were added in each direction, the mudroom/side entry was opened up a bit, a fireplace was removed which allowed a bigger MBR closet and bath and the laundry and sitting areas upstairs were changed a bit. While this doesn't have a direct effect on me it does bother me as it seems very dishonest, unethical, just plain wrong and (if the owner really didn't realize it was wrong) just stupid. Also, I haven't been in touch with the home company yet but was going to mention I learned about them through the homeowner. So, do I go ahead and still mention how I learned about them (and let them figure it out) or just say I heard about them "somewhere". And YES, I know it really doesn't concern me but it just makes me mad. Getting off my soapbox now... Thanks for any input.

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Honestly? (I'm not trying to be snarky.....)

I'd go on with your life and not let it worry you another second.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 5:45PM
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I would be bothered too.

Too many riff raff's getting off on somebody else's work & making a buck off it.

I just wish you had called him out.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 5:54PM
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I would be bothered as well, though I may not point it out the company, as in some way it could bounce back to that poor unsuspecting homeowner who may not have known what happened.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 6:20PM
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Was the plan really different from others you have seen? Because when you start looking at house plans, you realize that there are a lot of them that look very similar yet are done by different people.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 6:25PM
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I did say to the builder "no, the plan was the same with a few wall changes." But I wasn't going to get into an argument with the guy. (he had at least 100 pounds on me and I have my last name on my license plate-kidding)...

I do know that there are a lot of plans that are very, very similar to one another but the owner named the style. What got me was, up until the said it was stick built, I thought he used the company's panel system. The owner even gave me the house plan name (Charlotte Prindle).

Who knows, the plan is so very similar that maybe they did buy a set of the plans or at least work with the company. And, bright side, if this house wasn't built on a road I drive every-so-often I would never have learned about the "new old home" design site!

I won't lose sleep over it and at least there is one less builder I have to interview :)

Thanks all!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 9:58PM
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I just looked up the floor plan, it is rather unique...

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 10:03PM
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The design is labeled as copyrighted on the website which is of no legal importance but it indicates that the author probably took the trouble to register the drawings with the Library of Congress which means that the builder could be forced to cough up some serious money if the author wanted to pursue the matter.

I don't see how the owners could be held liable for the actions of the builder since he is not their employee. I assume the name of the original source was not mentioned in writing.

The only thing that surprises me is that the builder is so willing to reveal the source of the design when the punishment could be far greater than his profit on the house.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 10:44PM
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The owner told me the name of the design as well as the design company. The builder was the one who hemmed and hawed about the design being completely different. I just assumed (yes, I know) the house was built using the panels. Here is a pic of the house built near me...

Also, I'm not going to go crazy with this but it DOES bug me (as is quite obvious!)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 10:57PM
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Here is the original design from the website...

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 10:58PM
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That is very close, but I have also seen newer houses in the Boston burbs that look like this, so not such a "unique" design.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 11:06PM
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As long as the plans were purchased originally as 'reproducible' legally, the GC can have a local architect or draftsman make changes legally and then have an engineer sign off on them. In this area when you go to have additional prints made of the original plans, you 'must' have a letter from where you purchased them stating that they are reproducible. If you don't have this, they won't make any copies.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 11:13PM
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Either way I just love the look. I think my kids are getting tired of me driving by to look at it though. Wonder what they'll do if I'm able to actually build it??

Thanks again everyone.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2012 at 11:14PM
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I'll bet they would have gotten better results had they worked with and paid the original source. I think it's even evident from the photos.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 6:34AM
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The fact that other houses might "look like this" is not necessarily the standard a court would use to determine if a copyright infringement had occurred.

The usual test is if the building is "substantially similar". Courts have used the "ordinary observer" or "overall look and feel" test, under which two works will be substantially similar if a "reasonable, ordinary observer, upon examination of the two works, would 'conclude that the defendant unlawfully appropriated the plaintiff's protectable expression'."

In this instance the contractor would need to show how he could have arrived at a virtually identical arrangement of unprotectable design elements without relying on the previously published work of Connor Homes.

If the work was registered before the infringement occurred the author could collect statutory damages and attorney's fees instead of just an award of actual damages for lost profits and criminal penalties could apply if the infringement was willful.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 7:13AM
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I'm not a lawyer but from the information I have I think the designer would be successful if they brought the matter to court. That said I'm not going to call them up and "tattle". Before I found the local house was stick built I planned on contacting Connor Buildings as I would love to build one of their homes. My plan was to let them know I saw, and was impressed with, one of their homes in such-and-such town in NH & would like to explore working with them. I'm still going to do that but I'm not going to start babbling about the builder, plans, etc. I truly do not know if they purchased working plans from Connor but don't think this option is even offered. They'll either get back to me with "so glad Ms. Smith referred us" or "ummm... We don't have a house there".

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 8:52AM
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The builder would have to be pretty stupid to not realize that other buyers might call Connor Homes thinking they built the house. That's the only thing I find interesting about the situation; why would someone willingly put themselves in such a vulnerable position?

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 9:38AM
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Go for it spagano - would love to know the outcome of this!
You're not tattling - just making sure the context is correct.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 10:28AM
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Connor Homes might think it's good advertising for their product since it got you to call them. As I get older I no longer spend time and energy on anything that doesn't benefit me directly or indirectly.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 10:39AM
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I'll see what happens. It's funny because the builder commented he's never had so many people ask about a house. Eh, we'll see what karma does. Maybe it's all legit.

I did send a brief email to Connor as BF & I would love to use them. Just a basic 'saw one of your houses, owner gave me your name, want to learn more' message.

Again, thanks! I hope to soon be posting info & questions about MY build :)

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 2:53PM
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