Copy Cat

A naval architect was approached by a customer to design a catamaran workboat. The customer provided the naval architect with a plan of their existing workboat and requested the final design and specification was to be based on that boat. The customer’s stamp was on the plan and the naval architect assumed that the customer was entitled to use the plans.

The workboat was designed and a press release was issued to the trade press. Another naval architect saw the press release and claimed the catamaran was built to their design. They issued a “Cease and Desist” letter against the naval architect. It then became apparent that the customer had placed their stamp over the third party naval architect’s details.

ITIC’s member did however make significant design and specification changes to the original plans. ITIC instructed a barrister who specialised in copyright matters to consider whether these changes created a new design. The barrister advised that the onus of proof on the naval architect was high as there was clear evidence that a third party’s design was passed to them and clearly influenced their design. He was of the opinion that the changes to the original design were only refinements and did not evolve the design sufficiently far enough from the original.

The expert therefore advised that the only risk-free solution was to not continue with any of the existing designs otherwise if the build was to proceed the third party naval architect would seek an injunction to stop the work.

ITIC’s member redesigned the workboat from scratch. The copyright expert reviewed the work and confirmed that the second design appeared to be original. The project proceeded with the customer and the workboat is now in the water.

Ultimately a claim for breach of copyright was prevented. ITIC covered the legal costs.

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