Coles v Dormer & Ors [2015] QSC 224

Significance

This case demonstrates that building plans created by an architect may attract copyright protection, and that architect may be the sole author of such plans unless the architect has engaged in a high level of collaboration with another party. Courts have demonstrated a willingness to grant creative remedies to protect a building's design. 

Facts

In 2009 Lance and Moniker Spicer (Spicers), the owners of a property located in Cairns, commissioned architect Gregory Skyring (Skyring) to design a house. Following construction of the house by James Dormer and Michael Clark (builders, co-defendants in this case), the Spicers sold the property at auction to Stephen Coles (Coles, the plaintiff in this case) who won ahead of rival bidders John and Edith Breden (Bredens, the other co-defendants in this case).

Following the auction, the Bredens engaged the builders to construct a house based on the same plans as the Coles' house within the same development. Coles heard of the Bredens' plans and secured an assignment from Skyring of the copyright to the plans of the house. Coles sent numerous notices to the Bredens and the builders requesting that construction cease. Coles subsequently commenced proceedings in the Supreme Court seeking an injunction to prevent breach of copyright. By the time this matter had gone to trial, construction on the Bredens' house was essentially complete.

Decision

The court determined that the Bredens' house was constructed in breach of copyright.

Henry J considered that the houses were so unmistakably similar, it compelled the conclusion that the Breden house plans were substantially copied from those created by Skyring.

His Honour found that, notwithstanding that Skyring's plans had been prepared with some collaboration with the Spicers, Skyring's contribution was significant and unique enough such that the plans were capable of attracting copyright protection, with Skyring recognised as sole author of the work. Skyring was therefore free to assign its copyright to Coles. On these grounds the court was satisfied that the defendants' commissioning and building a house based on Skyring's plans was an infringement of copyright within the meaning of section 36(1) of the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) (Act).

The court considered the remedies available to it under the section 115 of the Act, including injunction, damages or an account of profits. In considering the appropriateness of an injunctive remedy, Henry J noted that Coles had taken steps to prevent the infringement and that the defendants had continued to build the house with full knowledge of Coles' complaint.

The court ordered an injunction requiring that the most significant external features of the house (being those which Coles had expressed most dissatisfaction with) be physically modified to a design less similar to Coles' house. This included changing the shape of windows and roofing. Finding that such modifications remedied the infringement, the court did not consider demolition of the house necessary.