Fired after Design Phase, who owns the drawings?


I have been practicing for 24 years and am glad this has only happened once.

I was contracted to design an alteration/addition to a home in the northeast.  My contract was in 4 tasks.  Existing conditions, Design. Historic Approvals, Construction Documents and Construction Administration.

I thought everything was going great it took a little longer than usual to get to the end of the design phase.  4 meetings total....but the client seemed interested in drilling down and exploring options.  I did not mind, I always try hard to make it a pleasurable experience for my clients.  They had a lot of input into the design and I believe they are happy with it.  It also went through historic approval without fanfare.

At this point the client requested the drawings be sent out to contractors for pricing.

Then I get a call.....they do have confidence in my abilities moving forward.  They are happy with the design but its " more than block and tackle moving forward".  Im a little confused as my contract did not include interior design services.  The Owner was to select all fixtures, material finishes etc.  I am ready to move to the construction documents task.

They want all my materials including area calculations, existing conditions measurements and all drawings in auto cad format.......the way the owner said it you could tell he had a list from someone else.

They said they were going to pay the design fee in full.   I am leary of giving out my drawings for a contractor to paste them up and use them as part of a permit set or same is true for another designer..... this seems like trouble to me.  I am really shocked because the permitting in this town can be very tricky and I have completed many successful projects there.

SInce the design is finished and they are happy with it and I did not include Interior design it seems to me they are letting me go for something that I was not going to do anyway...


What do you all think?

Jun 20, 14 8:41 pm

have they paid you at all for the work you did?  how much do they owe you? 

If I were you, I'd cut ties and disappear without a word, or get paid and send them half finished work/documents.  But that is just me.. I hate being back stabbed and used like that.  ;)

Jun 20, 14 10:19 pm

Assuming you have not done CDs, give them a bill for all work to date. Do not give them CDs, especially not sealed. Mark everything 'not for construction'. Make sure you document termination of the contract. Upon payment in full deliver drawings. Then thank them, smile and walk away. You will undoubtedly make more money with less headache. Just make sure to preclude liability. 

Jun 20, 14 11:32 pm
Paper drawings only marked "not for construction" leave off loads of info. Dimensions and notes.
Jun 21, 14 2:27 pm

Follow miles & accesskb’s advice, get paid and walk away. All architects have copyright protection automatically under federal law….if they don’t pay and use your stuff you could use this protection to collect. I did twice and it worked. However with this being a house there can’t be that much money involved. Had an old sage tell me once, “take the money and run”. If they are will to pay, take the money and run.

Jul 18, 14 2:09 pm

Some great comments so far. Generally speaking digital cad files and models are an instrument of service and owners are not entitled to them in any fashion. If they try to withold payment until you deliver cad files make them sign a complete release of liability and put directly on the drawings (embeded in the file) that the files are not intended for construction and are not to be reused without your express written permission under copywrite law, etc. There are some standard languages out there for this. There is also a AIA digital release form out there that is designed for BIM models as well.

It's a slippery slope when handing over your digital drawings. At a minimum make sure your title block is removed and purged from the files. And obviously don't agree to anything until you've been paid for your work.

Good luck.

Jul 24, 14 11:29 am

My first question was going to be, what does your contract say? If it does not address ownership of drawings or client (or architect) stopping the project before the contract is complete, then I would follow the above advice, and then revise your contract before next time to include it. Except would give them paper and pdf only not CAD.

Jul 24, 14 12:33 pm

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