There’s an old saying an architect friend of mine once told me that has really stuck with me through the years. He said “good architects create, great architects copy”. I remember at first being extremely offended by this statement because it was my belief that all architects create. Eventually I came to the realization that my friend really is correct because quite simply, it’s all been done before and we’re all just recreating the same themes in different ways over and over again but to different effect.
But when do we cross the line from “copy” to “theft”?
I received a phone call last weekend from a non-profit organization, which for now will remain nameless, asking for help on a project because the “designer” they originally paid to provide a design for them to present to some interested parties for affordable housing had quite blatantly STOLEN work from ANOTHER non-profit and tried to pawn it off as his own. LUCKILY they did their due diligence and discovered this guy’s fabrication before trying to market these materials as originals and opening themselves up to legal liability.
It’s honestly hard for me even to write about this without jumping into a very long winded and profane rant about ethics and honesty and honor, etc etc. So, instead, I’ll put it out there to you all – have you had experiences like this? And, if so, how did you handle the situation and what advice can you offer as a way to vet future designers/architects to make sure that they are not a fake, fraud or freeloader?
It happens more often than any of us would like to think, I’m sure. I’ve actually had the opposite happen, where instead of creating something new and a bit innovative, the non-profit wanted to just copy the other plans that they had been using over and over again with minor alterations to the plans, which we were unable to help them with.
Were you unable to help because of an ethical or technical dilemma? Were the drawings from another architect that they didn’t have permission to use and were trying to screw another designer out of a reuse fee?
I believe this happens more than we as professionals would like, but it’s still shocking any time it DOES happen. And in this case they used materials from a very PUBLIC project and company. It took the client about 5 minutes to find it online and their reaction was basically “wtf?”. It’s just unbelievable to me.
I believe the plans were from a local university program that had a bank of designs for non-profit use. Not even sure if they had to originally pay for them. For me it’s certainly an ethical dilemma if the conversation isn’t being had with the original architect or designer. I’ll have to go back and look at the revised copyright laws, because I know I’ve been in the conversations a few times, especially a few years ago, where the company I was with was contacted by a developer and asked for a proposal on how much we would charge if we took a plan, and made small revisions to it, so they could get away from paying original re-use fees or that there wouldn’t by copyright infringement because over a certain percentage of the plan had been changed.
But in the instance you’re writing about – pathetic stuff and lazy. So many good designers out there looking to do work, and this guys just ripping something completely off…..
In this instance, yeah, it’s pathetic. Especially to charge money for it.
As far as copywrite laws go, and reuse fees, I would think that it would be cheaper to pay a reuse fee rather than hire an architect to “make changes”. Most reuse fees I’ve seen are only a small percentage of the original design fee (25-30% or less). But maybe that’s not a standard practice? Never been in that situation personally.
It’s bad enough when a client tries to screw another designer or architect, but to have someone who is supposed to be a professional in the field to do it….that’s just disgraceful.