How to Protect Intellectual Property


Hi everyone,

I would like to know how to protect some of my AutoCAD drawings when given to clients. More specifically preventing them from printing, copy/paste and modifying my designs. What do you use for this? Is there software out there that I can use to achieve this?


May 13, 10 5:47 pm

whats wrong with giving them pdfs and having a waterwark across the page or even flattening them so the pdfs are not vectorize but pixelated? we never give clients dwg files but rather pdfs or dwf files.

May 13, 10 6:02 pm  · 

you can also explode all the p-lines and send everything to a single layer. That would render the file useless for anything but an underlay...

May 13, 10 9:18 pm  · 

"Instruments of Service" are copy written under AIA contract B141 Part 1 ...maybe you should make them aware of it ...also the "Architectural Works Copywrite Protection Act" covers built work they cannot essentially use your built design more than once

If you need to send them CAD then you could put a note on the drawing stating the copywrite ...and make sure you zoom into the note so when they open it up that would be the first thing they see

Otherwise just send them PDF's or put everything on one layer as stated above

May 13, 10 9:44 pm  · 


Most architects don't give ACAD drawings to clients or contractors. Only PDF's. But if you wish to do so, you should have them sign a CAD Indemnification for stipulating requirements for the usage and prohibiting distribution of the files to anyone other than those who sign the form. Do a search online. There are a few good templates you can reference.

May 13, 10 9:53 pm  · 

Thanks a lot for all this. We are working in eastern europe and the legal system here is a joke. At some government organizations we have to submit vector line based files therefore I like the idea of exploding all p-lines and merging everything into one layer. We will do that from now on. Also export to PDF will work for us too. Not many people use AutoCAD around us so we were not very sure what the common practices were to handle situations like this. But yes this all makes sense to me what you all wrote. I appreciate your suggestions.

May 13, 10 10:07 pm  · 

FP's idea to have them sign a form is good advice. The best defense is to only give you CAD files to people / organizations you trust. Our office has a defacto policy of only giving them to other design professionals (engineers, interior designers, landscape arch) that we have a trusting relationship with. Other than that....PDF

We tried a couple of times to do a scenario where the GC would have to buy a "fresh" CAD file from an independent 3rd party vendor. There are some companies out there (or maybe even an independent draftsman) that will do as-built drawings for you if you send them a paper copy. We would have the GC contract with one of these outfits to draft a floor plan off of a paper floor plan that we sent them. This got the GC what they wanted (a CAD plan to help their subcontractors and them estimate off of) and put a liability wall between us and that CAD file. What you don't want to happen is that you give someone a CAD file that has an error in it and then that error shows itself in something that someone prepares off of it. In this scenario there is no implied accuracy or warranty (from the architect) in the "fresh" CAD file. I think it cost like $0.10 SF to have this done for a residential project. We also required that the GC sign a copyright recognition and declare they would use the CAD file only for the purposes of the project, etc....

May 17, 10 7:08 pm  · 

honest question--

whats the potential harm in just handing your cad files off to a GC or or contractor? (in the US if that makes a difference).

My LA office does that occasionally..other offices I worked at took time to radius curves and dimension everything, but this office likes to hand out cad...*shrug*

May 17, 10 10:56 pm  · 

There are 2 basic problems you are trying to avoid in not handing out CAD files

1. Protecting you intellectual property - not letting someone steal your creative work.
Its not so much a concern that someone is going to steal your "whole" design. That is pretty to spot if someone builds your building again. Also, if someone is bound and determines to steal a floor plan from you, they can just draft it off of a paper copy. Its more that people use (for other projects) details, sections, etc... that you spent time figuring out/drawing, without you being compensated for that work. You have to draw some sort of bright line with people about what they can "take" from you. If they use a CAD file for a purpose other than what you gave it to them for, it is copyright infringement, which is stealing.

2. If they use a CAD file you gave them and it has "errors". Someone could try and make a claim that you issued a faulty "instrument of service" (same as if you gave them a paper drawing that contained errors).
For instance... lets say you manually changed a dimension text, but didn't shift the wall 2". A casework mfg. them builds a built in cabinet off of the electronic plan, not the dimensioned paper copy. The cabinet arrives on site and does not fit. The casework mfg. says you gave him a faulty plan and the liability for that $10,000 cabinet is yours, not his "he was just following the info the architect provided". Now there are a million way to shoot holes in that claim, but its still a potential hassle that most would rather avoid.
To me, giving out your CAD files can be just one more potential source of inconsistency or errors that doesn't offer the architect a whole lot of benefit, but can cause you problems. This is something to weigh vs. how "perfect" you think that CAD file is.

May 18, 10 7:38 pm  · 
1  · 

I protect my drawings with a Smith and Wesson....she hasn't failed me yet. Then again it might have something to do with the human target hanging on the wall in my office with a lota holes in the head and heart. Clients and contractors take a guy seriously, when they see the visual and it is reinforced with a note that states, "I protect my drawings with a Smith and Wesson."

May 18, 10 7:45 pm  · 

Clients never get the CAD files, always ftattened pdf's and there is a copywrite note on the drawing.  Same with Contractors, they get printed (up-to-date) drawings for site and an emailed pdf.

Structural Engineers and M&E or lighting design get a copy of the CAD it it has till now worked well for me.

Apr 20, 21 2:13 pm  · 

Money and lawyers. Otherwise, the best you can get is probably what others have said already.

Apr 20, 21 3:30 pm  · 

Make them into NFTs.

Apr 20, 21 3:54 pm  · 
6  · 

Bravo, SneakyPete! Absolutely agree. We already do this with CAD files using blockchain. I explain how we do this on my LinkedIn.

Apr 21, 21 7:28 am  · 


Apr 21, 21 2:34 pm  · 
3  · 
Non Sequitur

Alexandra, do you also offer time-share vacation opportunities?

Apr 21, 21 3:36 pm  · 

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