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I have a small business drawing architectural plans for contractors and individual owners. My field is very small so I know most of the people, contractors and owners in it. I give contractors a cheaper rate as they give me more work.

This week I come to find out that one of my biggest clients is whiting out my information from my plans and selling them to other contractors for whom he isn’t doing the work for saying he is an architect at triple what I charged him.

I’m not sure what to do about this as I don’t want to lose him as a client (the two times I found out this week I spoke directly to the person he sold them to so I am sure they will go directly to me in the future). Should I confront him? Or go around him maybe find out who is doing the job and contact them every time to let them know what he is doing and to just use me? I don’t believe he is breaking any laws as he did pay me for the work and technically isn’t duplicating the plans, just not using them for himself.

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    The only possible ethical issue I see is if the work you do is regulated and your client is passing himself off as a licenced/qualified professional when he is not.
    – jcm
    Dec 24, 2019 at 5:18
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    He isn't just plagiarizing your work and working without a license, he's violating your copyright by erasing your name. If I were you, I would report him to the licensing board in question and stop working for him. If he wants to erase your name, he would need to pay you a lot more money. That's what ghostwriters do, they charge a lot more for their work if they don't have their name on it (that being said, even doing that doesn't get rid of the licensing issue). Dec 24, 2019 at 7:25
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    I wonder what's going to happen if the building collapses and a formal investigation starts. Probably the people investigating this will have some questions, and the type of questions might shed some light on how acceptable all this is. (But I don't know what they'd ask; probably you do.)
    – Erik
    Dec 24, 2019 at 9:13
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    @StephanBranczyk He is violating OP's copyright by copying the plans. He is plagiarizing by erasing the name (making the buyer think that this company created the plans).
    – gnasher729
    Dec 24, 2019 at 12:12
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    This has nothing to do with ethics, this is theft.
    – Mast
    Dec 25, 2019 at 17:25

3 Answers 3

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You own the moral rights to your work. You may be able to exercise those rights under the copyright laws of your country. Furthermore, if this contractor is illegally pretending to be an architect, that puts him in a precarious legal situation. He's defrauding his clients.

In my country, if plans get signed by a fake architect, that puts everything else in question, the permits, the insurance, the loans from the banks, etc. So not only that puts him in a precarious legal situation, but that puts all his clients in a very precarious situation as well. Of course, this is assuming that the plans in question do require an architect to sign off on, not all plans do.

You may want to consult a lawyer on this issue. He stole your moral rights to your work. He owes you damages on the existing plans he stole from you.

If he really wants to profit from your plans, that's possible, but he should become one of your affiliates, not steal from you or defraud his clients. In an affiliate program, you can promise him a commission on the revenue that he brings in for you, and you can even promise him future residuals on repeat customers that he originally brought in for you. That would be the proper way and legal way to do it.

Ultimately, I really think you should consult a lawyer on this. If it can be proven that you learned about his fraud at some point, but kept on knowingly selling him plans after that. You will be perceived as a co-conspirator and not just as an innocent victim.

Should I confront him?

That depends. Is he really a fake architect? If he's truly a fake architect (in addition to having plagiarized your work), I wouldn't confront him. The harsher the punishments he's potentially facing, the more he may try to threaten you into not reporting him.

In a case like this, it may be in your interest to report him to the licensing board and to the authorities first.

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    Not every country recognizes moral rights to the same degree, but I agree a lawyer should be involved at this point. Personally, I don't think I don't think I could trust that this client would hold to any contract if they are so bold as to do what is claimed here.
    – Booga Roo
    Dec 24, 2019 at 12:22
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    If anything, the "not every country" aspect means that a lawyer is even more important, rather than less.
    – Ben Barden
    Dec 24, 2019 at 18:05
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    @BoogaRoo, I agree. I wouldn't trust him either. I'm only mentioning that option because the OP seems intent on continuing with him. On that note, I wonder if the guy even has a valid contractor's license. Dec 24, 2019 at 19:56
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    @Gimme If building blueprints are found to be fabricated, incomplete, or incorrect in any manner, fingers will be pointed. Insurance companies could refuse to pay out. Bank loans may be rescinded. If a building collapses, someone will be held responsible. Being an architect, civil engineer, or other professional that has legal weight behind their signature when they sign off on a document can result in penalties ranging from loss of license to prison time(depending on severity of the issue). If the last signature on the document was the OP's, that won't look good.
    – Booga Roo
    Dec 25, 2019 at 14:23
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    @BoogaRoo If this guy is brave enough to erase OP off the blueprint, who knows what else he has modified? It's a real mess when fingers start pointing.
    – Nelson
    Jan 2, 2020 at 6:36
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Over the passage of time architectural drawings, artistic renderings, can be worth a lot of money. Don't trivialize your work. Respect yourself and respect your work and DO NOT let this person use you as a doormat! Otherwise it will not stop. They are taking business from you.

Find our about any legal remedies and tell them to stop.

Meanwhile an external reference from here:

https://www.legalzoom.com/articles/how-to-copyright-technical-drawings

(Brief excerpt)

Blueprints and technical drawings are entitled to copyright protection as pictorial, graphic or sculptural works. Blueprints and technical drawings must meet two standards to be eligible for copyright protection:

They must be the author’s original work. This also means that they must show some minimal amount of creativity.

They must be fixed in a tangible object, such as paper or a digital medium. You cannot copyright a design idea or concept.

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The primary question here is: Who owns the information (IP)?

If the client owns the information, and they are acting as a re-seller, I do not think there is much you can do, as they have the control over the information and how that is used. They are quoting the higher rate for re-sale, but no one is bond to comply with that rate and get the information.

You can however, revisit the scope of agreement with this client about how the information is used. If in the contract it is mentioned that the information you provide can be white-labeled and re-sold as-is and somehow you will be connected / responsible / owning the responsibility of the information - you can consider charging accordingly. However, if the ownership of the information is with the client, it's ultimately their call, unless you are somehow involved / connected after the re-sale.

On the other hand, if you are the owner / co-owner of information / solution, you can negotiate certain rules / rates on where and how the information is re-sold.

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    Designers / engineers are held responsible for their designs in many places which your answer fails to address.
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 24, 2019 at 7:59
  • @SolarMike For example? Dec 24, 2019 at 10:45
  • @SolarMike but if he's removing the OP's info from the plans and presenting them as his own, would the OP still be held responsible?
    – Ben Barden
    Dec 24, 2019 at 18:03
  • @BenBarden well, perhaps you should ask a lawyer, will it be he who sold the plans as his own is responsible...
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 24, 2019 at 18:32
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    @BenBarden, As soon as the conman gets caught by the authorities, or the licensing body, or even if he just gets sued in civil court, he'll most likely claim that the OP was a co-conspirator and that he had his permission. This, by itself, is no big deal. No one will believe him. But if it turns out that the OP showed that he was aware of the scam, through his contacts with some of the fraudster's clients, but still continued to sell him more plans after that, he may be seen as a willing accomplice (and not just an innocent victim). Dec 24, 2019 at 20:06

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