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Copyright on Plans

A few months ago our team at ARID Builders has spent late nights trying to deliver a winning pitch for a project. We are confident about our designs and our client has been so engaged with us that we felt the certainty of acquiring the project is within reach. Suddenly the following week all went silent, after a few email attempts and phone calls they eventually responded by informing us that they have already awarded the project to another firm.

Fast forward to the present, we have another project at the same building a few floors below. Curiosity strikes, we went to check out this past project to know how did our design fare against the winning firm, whoever they are. Once the lift door opens we are in for a rude shock to see a familiar design and realized that it was exactly as what we have proposed with the exception of a few changes in finishes and loose furniture but the rest are exactly as what we have designed.

If you are in our situation, what will you do?

The knee-jerk Reaction

Without thinking, we immediately press the intercom and tried to look for the manager we have dealt with before. Eventually we were not allowed in after we mentioned our company and that we have no prior appointment made. I tried to rush back to the office to dig into my past emails to look for the contacts and correspondence from this company. After I found it, We are planning to drop a few messages and emails to give them a piece of my mind, After thinking long and hard, we decided not to.

The fact is, if we do so we may look desperate. After much reflection we realized that we may also be at fault for being careless and too trusting to provide our design documents without properly protecting it. Eventually, an afterthought of going to court and sue for copyright infringement is also an option thou it does not make business sense given the amount of time and money you will be spending in the process.

What are the possible course of action to avoid this?

After this experience, we realized that prevention is better than cure and nothing much can be done at this point but to move on and learn from it.

Gone were the old days of manual drafting, when once you leave a client meeting you bring your design drawings with you. There are no electronic files or emails to leave a trace of your proposals so the clients will be left with no other choice but to acquire your services to get hold of the blueprints and work together.

With the internet and all the disruption that technology brings how will the designers cope?  

1. Non-Disclosure Agreements

As designers, we are so focused on the design aspect that we forget the business and legal aspects of our profession. As much as we love to trust our client we also need to protect our Intellectual Property.

We recently found a software that can protect sensitive data once you send it over to your client. It is called DIGIFY, a document security plug-in, you can click this link to find out more. This software has security features to protect your design plans and documents from illegal tampering and also act as a deterrent to give the client the impression that you are aware of your IP rights and is willing to get the extra mile to protect it.

 2. Limit your Proposals

The client will find ways and means to squeeze the most out of us for FREE! In return we will fall to a sense of security that if the client is engaging and talking to us consistently, this project has a higher chance of being closed and you will have the tendency to give more that what is required to satisfy this client and develop a better business relationship.

FALSE! A professional designer will need to know where to draw a line. Just like a typical sales pitch we should just give them a Teaser and let them crave for it so they will pay for it.

3. Learn from Experience  

I’m sure most if not all have experienced this throughout our Professional careers. Lessons are learned through tough experience. As of now, we have yet to find a best solution to counter this problem except for using DIGIFY but even this may not be enough as some clients don’t care, but the fact is with the software it will be much easier to sue the client with all the proper documentation to cover and protect our intellectual property.

Well lets keep this open, this may just be the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure that other designers reading this Blog will have more ideas to share and we will be more than welcome to post it in our platform or bring it to the FORUM for further discussions.

Our Advocacy

The Office Designer has formed the #payperproposal movement as our advocacy to protect our profession against spec work. This is our way of giving back to win the respect and professionalism of our designers.  

You may want to read this related article; Are your design plans protected by a copyright notice?

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