Ncarb model rule of conduct - signing and sealing question



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    Matthew Dirksen

    It would ultimately depend on the agreement that the client had with the other company/individual who did the drawings.

    It's very possible that the clients may "own" the drawings free and clear, so any modifications you plan to make to them are fine.

    But this means it's very important to always ask who "owns" the plans? 

    Just because the AIA Contract documents have an "Instruments of Service" clause, doesn't mean that every design agreement has it. Moreover, always make sure that section wasn't stricken from the agreement as well. Some clients will only hire companies who will grand them full ownership of the design. 

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    Yan Zhang (Edited )

    Hi Matthew, thank you so much for responding my question. Per the question, there is not any agreement about instrument of service between client and the designer owning the drawing. Usually, if it is not pointed out in the question, the previous designer owns the drawing for sure. 


    Per B101, term 7.4, "any unauthorized use of the instruments of service shall be at the owner's sole risk". The owner can use those drawings and previous designer will not be responsible for any error in that drawings.


    I just check the AHPP, in order to finish the previous architect's efforts to complete this project, the new architect still need request copyright from the previous architect.

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    Gang Chen (Edited )

    The client submitted a set of standard blueprints purchased from a homebuilding publisher to the city for a building permit. He did not even want to spend any design fee at the beginning, not a very good sign.

    Clients with no experience building a home tend to think they do not need any design or architectural services, and can just buy a set of standard blueprints and use them to build, OR they simply do not have enough budget. They also will ask many questions, demand a lot and pay very low fees. Architects often end up losing money by picking up these kinds of clients because the time and money you spent on your staff will be more than the fees you charge.

    Architecture is a business, and not a charity or a hobby. Everyone has limited time. If you spend a lot of time on these kinds of clients, you will not have time to service the clients you should be serving. Selecting the right clients is a very important part of the architectural practice. We have been there and done that before. We had a client demanded 90% of our firm’s attention and only accounts for 10% of our fees. We would have been much better decline to service him at the very beginning.

    So, the architect should politely decline the request since it is not cost effective to do the project.

    Going back to you question: Once created, any kind of creative work is automatic protected by the copyright laws, even if it is registered in the copyright office. It is against copyright laws and NCARB’s Model Rules of Conduct to copy and modify plans without permissions.

    So, the architect should politely decline the request since it is against NCARB’s Model Rules of Conduct and copyright laws to modify another designer’s work.

    If you really want to pick up these kind of project, you need to have the owner to get a copy right release from the original copy right owner of the blueprints, and a permission to use and modify the plans for this project. They may grant the request and most likely they will ask the owner to release them from any liabilities for using and modifying their plans in writing.

    Cities also start to really enforce copyright laws now. For residential modification, we typically have to ask the owner to go to the city to get a copy of the existing plans from microfilm, and the owner has to fill out a city form to send in a written request to the original architect to get his permission to even get a copy of the plans from the city’s microfilm.

    Gang Chen, Author, Architect, LEED AP BD+C (

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    Yan Zhang

    Thanks Gang for such detailed explanation. Really appreciate it!

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