Ownership of CAD work?

Jan 15 '14 8 Last Comment
Jan 15, 14 9:57 am

I was recently laid off, and as a result, I have lost access to all of the projects that I was working on at the time. Totaling almost two years worth of work.

I need to show new prospective employers my work, and I have very little of what I did. It just makes me wonder, am I entitled to keep copies of the projects I work on? Am I entitled to the files I set up and the cad standard I helped establish in the office. If I were to email my former boss and ask for these files, and he were to say no, what would my options be?

In most of these cases, the design may not have been mine, but the drawing were (as my former boss wasn't so good with autocad).


Jan 15, 14 10:10 am

They are not yours and you are not entitled to them. That being said, you should have, in my opinion, saved copies in expectation of needing them in your portfolio. 

Jan 15, 14 10:23 am

i'm pretty sure you are not entitled to the cad files or cad standards.  any work you do while employed is owned by the employer.  in a related analogy, the bratz dolls were created by an employee of mattel.  supposedly the idea came to him while working at mattel, then he left and created the dolls on his own.  he was subsequently sued by mattel and mattel won the initial lawsuit.  if you're a working class stiff, any thought you have is owned by your superiors.  it should be noted there have been a few more lawsuits where mattel had to pay the bratz people as well.  those court cases are an interesting look into how fucked up free thought is in america.

what might be more pertinent than the cad file is a pdf or jpeg or something that you could include in a portfolio to show future potential employers that you have professional experience.

so, your superiors can pretty much legally take whatever they want, and withhold whatever they want. since you're just trying to work for a living, there isn't really anyone there to help you or stick up for you.  however, the aia says that's not always a good thing.  they have established the following in their 1997 code of ethics:

Rule 5.201 Members shall recognize and res-
pect the professional contributions
of their employees, employers, pro-
fessional colleagues, and business
Rule 5.203 A Member shall not unreasonably
withhold permission from a depart-
ing employee or partner to take
copies of designs, drawings, data,
reports, notes, or other materials
relating to work performed by the
employee or partner that are not

the fine folks at the aia have also posted a few rulings based on specific cases;

you can look into it deeper; i just clicked the first couple links i saw.  maybe there are a bunch of cases out there that say aia actually does try to help out those of us who are just trying to work for a living.  from these examples, it seems aia doesn't care about enforcing their own ethics either.  at least some of the time.  i'm not an expert.

Jan 15, 14 10:34 am

Keep in mind that unless you give potential employers copies of your portfolio and they then report back to your previous employer what they have been given, there's unlikely to be an issue. Use your best judgement.

Jan 15, 14 8:38 pm


As a practical matter, this is more about "process" than "entitlement".

You don't indicate whether you left your former firm on good terms and whether the layoff left your employer feeling a bit guilty. So, to a large extent, I'm flying blind here.

However, it would seem a very reasonable approach to telephone your former boss (don't e-mail - that's too easy to ignore) and simply mention that, since you're out of work, you need to put an updated portfolio together. Ask if you can come by the office and plot some sheets. Be very upfront about what you want / need - but don't ask for too much. Ask only for what you really think you'll be able to use effectively in your portfolio. Offer to pay for what you plot.

Don't raise the question of making electronic copies of CAD files until you have permission to visit the office and actually are there - this sort of request tends to make firms skittish. When you do ask, don't get upset if they say "no". Just take what you can get, be thankful, and then make the best of it.

Be personable and not demanding -- your former employer has no 'legal' obligation to let you have anything. Your challenge is to induce your former employer to "want" to give you a helping hand. If your former employer is a reasonable sort, you should be okay.

Good luck.

Jan 16, 14 12:11 pm

quizzical is right.  If you left on good terms they should be understanding and willing to work with you.  If I were the employer, I wouldn't give you the drawing files but I would work with you to get plots.  You probably should have broached this topic when they dropped the hammer on you and were presumably feeling guilty.  Oh, well, 20/20 hindsight.

Jan 16, 14 2:59 pm

Hindsight indeed. In hindsight, I should have just been taking the files the whole time, than I wouldn't have to worry about this at all.

Jan 16, 14 4:42 pm

^  Yup.  Moral of the story is to begin planning for your departure the day you start a new job.  When you've been axed you are generally in a state of some shock and not always thinking clearly.

vado retro
Jan 16, 14 6:48 pm

i would think that unless you really pissed them off that you should be able to make copies of the working drawings. also, although the aia has a code of ethics, remember that not every architect is a member of the aia.

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