Misadventures in Copyright

backyard, four months later Last year I moved into a new house with a big backyard, but the yard faces directly south, so it bakes in the summertime. I decided to find a local architect to help build a small shade patio off the back, and in the process I learned a lot about how far-reaching copyright law hits everyday people.

  1. After meeting with an architect, I was asked to get the plans for the house from the city building department, to use as reference. I drove down and requested them at the desk, and they said they wouldn’t give them to me as a homeowner — the builder of the house had to request them (I assume, because of copyright, so I won’t go build a duplicate house on my own?).
  2. I met up with the builder later that day, since he was building another house in the city. He was surprised and slightly annoyed he had to do this, so he called the department and told them to go ahead and let me see the plans to get copies made.
  3. The next day the City lets me pick them up, but says I must return them by 5pm the following day (or I guess they turn into a pumpkin?).
  4. I go to a large local copy shop, drop off the plans, they say they’ll be done in two hours.
  5. 1 hour and 55 minutes later, I get a call saying they can’t make the copies, due to copyright. I’m told I need written (verbal isn’t good enough) permission from the architecture firm mentioned on the plans before they would copy them. My only other choice is to come in and retrieve the plans.
  6. I scour the yellow pages online and no one else in the city has a large copier for house blueprint plans. I notice the plans have a paragraph-sized copyright notice/license on the side saying you are liable for $40,000 in damages if found copying them and the plans are only for one house built. There are also hand-stamped “COPYRIGHT” stamps on each drawing, on every page.
  7. I tell this story to my architect, who says she’d be happy to take the plans to the same copy shop that refused them, since they let her make any copies she needs.

As the owner of a home, of course I don’t “own” the design used to build it, but I don’t see why the city, the builder, the copier shop, and the original architecture firm all had to stand in my way before I could see the plans. To know where and how many windows are on the back wall before planning new construction off those walls sure seems like a legitimate use of plans that shouldn’t impede on copyright, but that’s the state of copyright matters today.