Copyright and GW (summerfield,CamG)

supergrrl7December 5, 2012

A little background from a frequent reader, but rare poster of this forum:

We are at the very very early stages of building a house on a small vacant lot in a very desirable historic neighborhood. we want our house to look old, but have all the conveniences and layout of a newer home.

We started out with the idea of an L-shaped house but found it left us with practically no yard at all. I collected bungalow plans for about 6 months only to discover that my husband hates "Lots of roof" and 1.5 stories. Apparently he didn't know what I meant when I said "bungalow". Lesson learned. Now he has to look at the stuff I am collecting weekly. (He hates pinterest with a white hot passion now!)

We are now looking at very straightforward rectangular houses, in hopes of reducing costs on the foundation and rooflines. We will probably model the exterior after a typical 4-square or (if we can't squeeze in a front porch due to our lot and setback restrictions) something similar.

I have been struggling to sketch a plan to show to our future architect (not yet hired) and builders. We want something that makes good use of the southern facing side of the house but also has a separate kitchen because we are messy kitchen people. With a four square-type plan, I was always left with one front corner that was wasted. I also had a terrible time trying to figure out where to put the stairs.

Recently, on this forum, CamG posted plans and Summerfield worked her magic on them. I love the general layout of the first floor of CamG's plan, though our dimensions would be different for our house. This plan has nearly everything I want (office, open LR/DR, separate pantry, mudroom and 1/2 bath), though there would be adjustments for our lifestyle, lot configuration, etc.

I don't want to steal anyone's work or violate copyrights or anything. I have no idea if my version of the posted plans would be at all practical or if our final product will be remotely similar, but I want to cover my bases.

I can obviously contact Summerfield and CamG, but I guess my real question is how do I know if I am infringing on a copyright? Will I be infringing if I put my mudroom on the front of the house because I saw it here first?

I really want to be a good community member and not break any laws or anything. Help!

Here is a link that might be useful: CamG's plans

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This is a great question ~ thanks for asking because I am curious about this too. We are in the process of designing a straightforward, rectangular, single level. I look forward to seeing your plan!

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 7:28PM
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I'm not a lawyer (although I'd like to play one on TV--couldn't resist, LOL!), but I believe copyright violations come into play when you copy someone's copyrighted plans outright or to a great extent and it can be proven that that is what you did. However, when you look at many of the house plan mill plans and even plans from designers like Bill Poole, Don Gardner, Frank Betts, etc many of them resemble another designer's plan. How many cape cod, federal, southern, etc style houses have you seen that look almost identical both inside & out? Those designers aren't suing one another over copyright issues.

I do not believe there is any legal problem with starting with a plan or a few plans & photos that have many of the things you desire as inspiration to put together a plan that is unique and customized for your family. If you can find a plan that needs minor tweaking (i.e. make rooms a little larger, alter garage entry to side, add or delete windows/doors, etc) it may be best to go through the original designer to make those few changes at a nominal cost vs starting from scratch with a local arch/designer (do keep in mind that the original arch/designer likely will not be taking into consideration anything about your particular lot and what that foundation will need to look like.) If however you have inspirational floorplans and exteriors, that is a different ballgame and you have the option to take those inspirations to your own arch/designer to make them into a reality. Pictures speak louder than words, and never more so than when you're building a house!

I think GW member bevangel is an attorney--perhaps she will weigh in with the non-TV lawyer answer!

    Bookmark   December 5, 2012 at 8:31PM
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A copyright does not protect an idea but an idea can be expressed in a drawing and the drawing can be protected by a copyright. Congress has held that creativity in architecture frequently takes the form of a selection, coordination, or arrangement of unprotectible elements into an original, protectable whole.

So, you would definitely need Summerfield's permission to reprint or post on the internet the drawings in question but short of using them to build a house with no changes, a copyright infringement claim would be a stretch and more costly than the potential award and difficult to win if you had good reason to believe these plans and others had been given to other forum member for free. Copyrights of house plans are intended to provide fair compensation; no one can prevent you from putting a mudroom in the front corner of your house.

That's the legal side of it. For the ethical side you must contact Summerfield (not CamG) and ask for permission to reprint, post or use parts of the design without compensation but since you have already reprinted it, I see no reason to do that until you know how much the final design will resemble it. If an architect is gong to use it as a starting point I suspect any use of the final design will not infringe on Summerfield's copyright.

There is no prohibition on inspiration. You should use any and every design idea you like and worry about copyrights when you are done and want to publish or build.

If your current dilemma arises from the desire to post some of Summefield's ideas in your preliminary design on the internet, that seems no greater infringement than what you have already reposted unless you think you had the right to do that because it's in the public domain which would free you to use it anyway you like.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 8:20AM
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Hi supergrrl7,
I am a lawyer, though I don't practice in intellectual property. Even if I did, I would never give anything more than general observations on the law, and certainly not legal advice over the internet. Anytime people have a legal issue that could result in significant liability, they should talk with an attorney competent to practice in that area. A lot of attorneys will talk to you for little or no cost, at least to give you an idea what kind of representation you might require. I chat with folks almost every day without charging them.

Summerfield has given me permission to use the plans she made. And really, it's not quite true that I'm simply using her plans--Summerfield took my plans, made some wonderful modifications, then I made some modifications on her plans, and she modified them again. Then we took the result and made a number of other changes, and then used that as a guide to create the plan in CAD. Certainly we incorporated some of her new ideas, but we also incorporated ideas that others redrew online. (Let there be no confusion, of course, I am tremendously indebted to her and many others on this forum.)

THAT SAID, I have my actual set of plans on CAD and in print that I would be more than happy to give you. I've put a lot of time and thought into those plans, and while I can't say if they work well for anyone else, we are extremely happy with them. I would love to see anyone else get use from them, whether just to use for ideas or to actually use as the starting point for their own plans. I recently posted the latest versions, which will have some modifications, and I can provide you blown up versions if you email me from the forum. If you're not comfortable using those plans given their origin, by all means, see an attorney.


    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 9:08AM
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This was a wonderful question, one that I was going to be asking about also! Your plan (CAMG) is a smaller compact version of what we want. We need a few tweaks and maybe an extra couple of feet each way, but otherwise pretty much what we need. I was going to ask about using your plans as a backup in case ours comes in way too high.

I just want to say that my favorite part of your plan is the upstairs shared bath! I don't know why, but I love it and think it's a great bath for a lot of kids to share, which is my case too. I also love being able to access the mudroom for the front door and the garage. That's a feature on my current plan and it is awesome for lots of kids who use both doors.

So, I'm second in line for can I have permission too? If so, I'm going to play with it on paper. I'm an old school drafter and can't seem to figure out any online program.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 2:18PM
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I appreciate your kind words about the plan. The house could benefit tremendously from an extra few feet in each direction--another 2' deep between entry and stairs, another 2' wide living room, and then you could make the upstairs bedrooms significantly bigger.

What we're most excited about the bath is that it gives us a full area in front of the tub when bathing the kids--I hate sitting next to a toilet when giving baths! It results in a lot of wasted space around the toilet, but a lot can be done with that space.

At any rate, to the extent I own my plan, I hereby grant all persons the right to use it for any purposes without attribution. Enjoy! Please let me know if you would like larger, slightly more updated versions, I would be happy to comply.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 3:34PM
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I like the bath for the same reason! We have a 10' farm table that we would like to accomodate. That's my biggest problem. I'll play with it. I really hope I get to build the plan that I have right now, but I've been worried lately that it's going to be out of our budget when our house sells, so this will give me just about everything I want. I might try to utilize the area above the garage too for future finishing. Thanks, now I guess we still need to ask Summerfield for her permission.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 3:54PM
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Thanks everyone for your advice and also a big thanks to CamG!

My husband is a litigation attorney, so when I asked his advice, he basically said he could sue me no matter what I did!

I know our plans will probably change about 100 times between now and when we break ground, but I really feel better knowing we actually can get everything I want in a plan of this general layout. It will be interesting to see what the architect has to say too. I feel kind of micro-managy about the layout, but I am very flexible about the exterior, as long as it looks traditional and like it could be built on our street 80 years ago.

I can't wait to post my sketch for feedback here.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 4:05PM
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Frozenelves, I'm pretty much certain Summerfield would give permission to use whatever she has drafted on this site. That's really her MO--she swoops in, drafts a new version of someone's plan with her own creative twist--apparently out of the goodness of her heart. Never has she asked for remuneration or recognition. Unfortunately I haven't seen her on the forums, pretty much since she drew up her version of my house, but I think others have had luck contacting her directly?

10' farm table? Sounds really neat! That might be tight in the 15' area, but you could always make that a couple of feet deeper.

Supergrrl7, I'm also a litigation attorney, and yes, I agree with your husband, no one is completely safe from being sued!

Have either of you posted your plans on the forum? Let's go! I can't imagine how much worse this house would have turned out had I kept my plans to myself.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 5:24PM
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I posted an earlier set of plans a long time ago. Those were nixed by my builder. I started over trying to simplify the whole design. I drew them up by hand with my tools and my builder is going to bid from it. I don't want him to draw them up on the computer until I know if it's in my budget. You can see my old plans if you search under my name. It should be an old one.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 3:03AM
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I am certain that Summerfield would welcome compensation but it is forbidden to ask for a fee on the GardenWeb. The design of a house is a very time consuming enterprise whether you are good at it or not as everyone should know. No one can do it for free for long.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 5:51PM
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Thanks Renovator8. I'd be willing to pay her if I end up using the plan.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2012 at 11:32PM
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