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Using details created by others - Devils Advocate

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I just wanted to serve this up for discussion:

Preface: I have aquired details over the years from friends, past employees
and other places. Mostly these details represent generic or Typical
conditions such as those that comply with or describe code requirements.
These are not unique and just about everyone uses the same type of details.
I also created - from scratch -, a detail library for use with URM
retrofits - and sold these for a fair price about 5 to 8 years ago. In this
case, these details were also "Typical" in nature and represented the
convention for URM construction at the time.

One side: I would not want my details that I was marketing to be used
(either in electronic format or "cut and paste") by anyone who did not
purchase the library from me.
Other side: I have no objection to anyone who wants to redraw these details
(from scratch) since they represent a method of construction which I feel
that I can not claim ownership for.

This brings up a couple of questions:

1. If the detail is unique to a project, but can easiliy be modified to work
elsewhere, is the detail protected when modified by someone other than the
original creator?

2. Assume that, as in the URM details, the work becomes an industry standard
representing the best solution for a construction method.  Does the
Intellectual property rights of the creator prevent others from representing
this method in all subsequent details without paying a licensing fee to the
original designer?

3. Is the physical drawing or the method described by the drawing copyright
protected?

4. Let's assume a developer is building a type of structure that he intends
to duplicate (ie, commercial strip mall) and uses the same contractor who
has preferences to the type of construction methods which are least labor
intensive. The Developer wants to use another engineer for various reasons -
competition, engineer may no longer practice, performance concerns etc. Is
the Developer justified in asking the new engineer to keep his details in
conformance with the original engineers design - and provide the new
engineer with a copy of his past plans?


Unlike an architectural design of a building, there are a limited number of
ways to assemble a structure that offer the client optimum cost and
performance. Over the years I have collected drawings from others - either
by clients who want me to redesign or  to evalutate. I do look through the
details of others for idea's and to learn other means to accomplish a
problem. In no case do I simply copy and paste a detail to any design I
produce.  I don't believe in allowing the contractor the latitude to build
by his experience and expect him to do it the way I detail (unless his
suggestion is valid and I can document it). Very few details are specific
enough to my projects and need to be modified to fit the condition.

I am curious as to what point the work created by an engineer becomes part
of the public domain - if ever.

Dennis Wish PE

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