Architectural plans for house building-some copyright issues

Are you thinking about buying a site and building a house? A site with plans?

Have you ever considered the intellectual property rights, such as copyright, which may attach to the plans? This is an issue that is easy to overlook.

I have acted for many clients, mainly young couples, who have bought a site with planning permission or bought one subject to planning permission.

In the latter case it is almost certain that the purchasers will engage the services of their own architect or engineer who will draw up the plans for submission as part of a planning application. If successful, the purchaser can proceed and conclude the purchase and build the house, assuming they have paid their architect for the plans and assistance with the planning application.

What if the purchasers’ situation then changes and they decide to sell the site? Do the plans go with it? Have they the right to sell those plans along with the property?

This raises questions of copyright, questions that should be addressed at the outset.


Artistic works, including architectural drawings, are protected by the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000. This protection would cover diagrams, models, drawings, plans, charts.

It may be the case that whilst an architect is the owner of the copyright in his/her plans there may be an inference that a licence is being granted to the client who engages the services of the architect, and it attaches to the site on which planning permission has been granted.

But it is not always certain.

For large developments it is an area that should be dealt with in the contract between architect and developers/builders.

Another issue that can arise is the amending of plans to satisfy the local planning authority. How does this impact on the copyright rights of the original architect who may not be still involved in the project?

The RIAI Agreement between a client and the architect providing architectural services does provide for a licence from the architect to the client to use the designs for the relevant project provided the charges to the appropriate Work Stage has been paid by the client.

In conclusion, builders/developers and those who are buying a site to self-build a house need to be careful about the contract with the architect and the right to use the drawings for the project. And what will happen if they decide to, for example, flip the site and change their mind.


There may be an inferred licence but the more prudent thing to do is ensure a contract or agreement is drawn up at the outset covering the copyright in the plans and any licences as to use thereafter.

When buying land with permission check to ensure that the plans are transferable to any future purchaser of the site and licenses can be granted to the ultimate builder/developer.