The recent case of Signature Realty Limited v Fortis Developments Limited and Beaumont Morgan Developments Limited shows how important it is to ensure that copyright in architects' plans is obtained when you acquire a new development site.

Fortis acquired a site in Sheffield which had the benefit of planning permission for a residential scheme. The permission had been obtained previously by Signature, who had commissioned the drawings and plans that were annexed, but whose proposed purchase of the site had not gone ahead. It was a condition of the permission that the development would be carried out in accordance with those original drawings and plans. Fortis therefore used them during the construction and subsequent promotion and marketing of the development.

Signature alleged that this infringed their copyright in the drawings and plans, and the Court agreed. This was on the grounds that Fortis had made AutoCAD versions of Signature's drawings, using altered copies for tendering and construction and identical copies for marketing.

By the time the case reached the Court the development had been completed and sold on to a third party and so the Court determined that injunctive relief would be inappropriate, but damages would be payable. The level of damages has yet to be determined, but the Court has refused to grant additional damages on the basis that Fortis did not intentionally infringe the copyright.

The case confirms that architects' drawings and plans are capable of being protected by copyright, and a developer can be liable for infringing copyright if it decides to use the drawings without the proper permissions.