Professional Practice - Who has the rights to the CAD files?


An architect is hired by the builder, does 6 houses, permit & construction drawings, architect is fired by the builder. Who owns the legal right to the raw CAD files that created these houses?  Architect or Builder. Architect offered only pdf's at the termination of the relationship. Thanks in advance for your comments.

Oct 5, 12 9:50 pm

What does the contract say?

Oct 6, 12 12:46 am

Did you get paid in full for the services you provided?

Oct 6, 12 8:42 am
i r giv up

If you used standard AIA contracts, you have the right to all drawings produced. Drawings are an instrument of service not an actual product. Architects don't sell drawings/cad files, they sell design services. CAD files fall under the category of drawings. Under a standardized agreement, the architect has the right to claim back all drawings, keeps all copyright, and can file a claim if they are used in the future.

The architect is being courteous. He doesn't need to offer anything after termination, and he can go ahead and claim back his drawings, even the ones in the hands of the owner and builder.

Standard contracts are pretty awesome.











oh look, the computer nerd read his contracts. teh horrrrrrooorrrrr!

Oct 6, 12 9:23 am

Yep, whatever the contract says.  Most likely the architect retains copyright on the design and the builder only has a "one time license" to use the design for this specific project.  So having the cad files without any legal ability to build the design again is pretty worthless.  

Of course, the CAD files can benefit the builder during construction, probably, so they can change everything you've drawn.  You really shouldn't sign a contract requiring you to hand over cad files unless the use of them is very clear.

I was in somewhat similar situation once and had to politely tell the Owner they had no legal right to CAD files. Lots of angry noises came through the other end of the phone during *that* conversation!

Like lr giv up said above: standard contracts are a nice thing.  And very affordable, even if you're not AIA.

Oct 6, 12 12:41 pm

hire a lawyer.

Oct 6, 12 2:09 pm

U get the CAD!

(see page 4).

Oct 19, 14 8:05 pm

Have some experience with this. According to US Copyright Law the work belongs to you exclusively. Architects don’t even need to file for a copyright on their work, it automatic. It helps to apply a copyright notice on the drawings but isn’t mandatory. Had a case where I did a condo-villa (principally a single family house) and the builder didn’t pay. He built the house then proceeded to replicate and build many more with the same plans. I sued him in Federal Court Pro Se and won. Copyright infringement is serious business in this country. Architects are at the top of the list with this sort of thing. As said, I didn’t even use a lawyer, just went down to the federal court and explained what I needed to do and they went out of their way to help me.

Not paying for the initial house was probably something for small claims, but when he replicated, that escalated the situation. Nobody, I mean nobody has the right to use your work without paying for it. Federal Copyright Law is very specific and clear about this, thank God for that. Again, this is serious business; I even contacted the FBI who is in charge of enforcement of Federal Copyright Law.

Even if it’s a bunch of floor plans and wall sections, under the law its art & invention and this county wouldn’t be where it is without protection of those things. I know this post is old but for anybody who is listening, don’t let anybody get away with this sort of thing…forget contract, its Federal Law.  

Oct 19, 14 11:10 pm

Unless it says something in a contract, the Architect does not have to give any CAD files to anyone. 

May 4, 15 5:14 pm

What if you are doing the Architectural plans and the owner has to hire a MEP company to complete the project? the MEP company would need the CAD files to save time and ensure compatibility with the architectural plans.

Jun 7, 19 4:35 pm
Non Sequitur

Then send your cad to the poor MEP. can't expect them to redraw your work just to complete theirs. Standard practice.


Media Release. Get it signed. Standard practice.


They are yours, but sometimes sharing is beneficial to the client imo.  If there are any discrepancies in a re-draw by others it could f-up the project.  When I share the files I delete anything not unnecessary for them to have, and make them sign an agreement. 

Jun 8, 19 12:51 pm

Depending on the contract, but I believe whoever created the CAD, design, drawings retains the ownership and copyrights. Local jurisdictions may differ but in general, if an Architect is fired, the new Architect has to obtain consent from the original Architect to use their drawings and continue on with the project. If the project continues onward without permission, the builder/ new architect will be held liable of copyright infringement and lawsuits. I've read too many example of case studies on this. Some professionals are just either incredibly lazy or unbelievably incompetent or worryingly unethical.

Jun 10, 19 6:28 pm

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