Attribution of Design and Professional Ethics

Respect other designers' right of attribution

Every building designer ultimately experiences the situation at some stage during their business activities where a client approaches them to prepare a complete set of working drawings from town planning drawings that were initially prepared by another building designer.

Leaving aside any potential for infringement of copyright and legal action in reproducing the original author’s town planning drawings (and depending on the circumstances there may or may not be a copyright infringement), the issue of appropriate attribution and preventing any misrepresentation of authorship of a design, is a matter also dealt with under the Commonwealth Copyright Act and is also deserving of further consideration in terms of professional courtesy and ethical standards.

Under the Copyright Act, the author (building designer) of a work (plans or drawings) has a right of attribution of authorship in respect of his or her work.

Additionally, the author of a work has a right not to have authorship of the work falsely attributed. It is an act of false attribution to insert or affix, or to authorise the inserting or affixing of a person’s name in or on a reproduction of the work in such a way as to imply falsely that the person is the author of the work.

Further, identification of the author of a work must be clear and reasonably prominent on each reproduction of the work so that a person acquiring the reproduction or copy will have notice of the author’s identity.

So, what is the position of the first designer who prepared the original design and town planning drawings whose plans are then subsequently reproduced by another designer for the purposes of preparing working drawings? The problem arises in that when the second designer details his or her name in the title block of the working drawings, there is the potential for any person who sees the documents (and not knowing the circumstances) to gain the impression that the actual design of the project was also carried out by the designer whose name is on the title block of the working drawings. And this is where there is a real risk by the second designer in infringing the provisions of the Copyright Act.

The only way in which this issue can be appropriately resolved is for the second designer who prepares the working drawings to ensure that they include in the title block the name of the first designer and attributing the design concept to that designer.

Apart from the legal implications under the Copyright Act, this approach should be viewed as appropriate as a matter of professional courtesy amongst peers and particularly amongst BDAV Members. We all know how important the design concept phase is and how integral it is to the status of the professional building designer. It is authorship and identity that should not be taken lightly given the enormous intellectual energy that can go into the design phase, leaving to one side the burden of time associated with this particular part of the scope of services provided by building designers. It must continue to always be respected.

We would be interested in hearing Members’ views and comments on this matter, particularly the need to ensure the first designer’s name is included on the title block of working drawings.

Although not quite the same circumstances, a similar problem was recently advised to the BDAV which related to a building designer who designed an addition to a residence (without significantly altering the design of the existing residence) and who then included the residence and the addition on their corporate website, giving the impression that the building designer had designed not only the addition, but also the whole of the residence. Again, it implied that the original house design was the authorship of the designer who carried out the design of the addition. When this was referred to the building designer, the person readily agreed to remove the offending photographs from the corporate website. But again, it demonstrates how easy it is to either innocently or deliberately infringe an author’s right of attribution.

An author’s right of attribution should always be respected by BDAV Members and, indeed, by the design community generally.

by Brian Morison, BDAV Executive Officer, 1994-2012