This week I’ve written articles on two court cases involving copyright, contracts and architects. Both cases involve lengthy disputes over either a unit block or project homes. The project homes case is continuing with an appeal due in 2008.

It got me thinking. What options are available for Australian architects who seek to professionally document their legal relationships with clients and collaborators?

The home unit case in the High Court of Australia was decided in December 2006: Architect gave an implied copyright licence. It involved an architect who prepared architectural plans with no written contract in place. He also entered an undocumented property development joint venture for the unit block. The second case was about project homes, the copyright in which has allegedly been breached by a substantial property development company and two of its senior executives: “Wow factor” snares copyright breach of architectural plans.

These tales of woe prompted research at the website of The Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA).

"innovation_place" Going to the RAIA website the list of winners from the 2007 National Architecture Awards caught my eye. The Awards have been running since 1981. The very informative RAIA Awards Gallery is a database searchable in many ways, including by type of building, location and year.

Then I saw what I had suspected existed, a collection of standard or template contracts available for purchase. Just as useful I noted lots of advisory notes.

Through a joint venture with Master Builders Australia, the RAIA makes available the Australian Building Industry Contract suite (ABIC suite). It includes a Major Works Contract, Simple Works Contract and Early Works Contract. Additionally, there are contracts such as a Furniture Supply Agreement for commercial fit-outs and a Costs Plus Contract where payments are for the cost of work plus a lump sum or percentage fee.

The architects in the two court cases could have used a licence contract to give or obtain consent to use some or all elements of designs or plans. Also, a written joint venture agreement could have reduced the scope and length of the dispute in the home units case. Without them potential problems lurked until they infected commercial and legal relationships big time. Contract drafting and documentation are core offerings by our firm. It’s a remarkable fact that a few hundred dollars invested in RAIA contracts or a few thousand dollars invested on advice from an IP and contract lawyer could have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) to sustain litigation lawyers and barristers.

Surely the architects in the cases could have done better or knew the right thing to do? Certainly the home units architect was a member of the RAIA.

The RAIA website informs us that it “…is a national body consisting of 9000 members across Australia and overseas.”  RAIA architects are encouraged to undertake Continuing Professional Development and are obliged to comply with its Code of Professional Conduct.

A contract will very rarely make a really bad deal or really bad relationship any better. If there is poor ethics in the mix you might smell the aroma of litigation. The research confirmed my thinking on reading both court cases I wrote about this week, it is that both cases involve Australian architects behaving badly.


Graphics: Innovation Place is a new 2007 building now leasing in North Sydney.  IP or Innovation Place is the name of the building. It’s either spin, or if there is anything innovative about the building it is not being prompoted.

Noric Dilanchian