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Copyright infringement of building plans leads Court to award $70,000 damages

07 March 2016

#Intellectual Property

Copyright infringement of building plans leads Court to award $70,000 damages

In a recent decision in the Queensland Supreme Court, Coles v Dormer & Ors (No 2) [2016] QSC 28, homeowner Stephen Coles was awarded a total of $70,000 in compensatory and additional damages for copyright infringement of the building plans relating to his home.

The factual background is that Mr Coles purchased a house with a distinctive design at auction. A couple who were present at the auction, the Dormers, requested that a replica of Mr Coles’ house be built nearby, within the same gated (and exclusive) community.

Mr Coles obtained an assignment of the copyright in the building plans from the architect, and he then sought to prevent the Dormers from copying his house by way of a Supreme Court injunction.

The Queensland Supreme Court at first instance found that the copyright in the house plans had been infringed, and ordered several remedial works to take place, including that the Dormers remove and replace certain aspects of the house including roofs and windows, and that certain areas of the house be filled and concealed by rendering.

Following the completion of this remedial work, the Court recently considered the award of damages to Mr Coles.

With respect to compensatory damages, the Court held that Mr Coles suffered a loss of enjoyment of a “locally unique residence”, which lasted two years as that is how long it took for the remedial work on the Dormers’ house to be completed. There was also a potential loss of the residence’s value. Mr Coles was awarded $10,000 in compensatory damages, taking into account that the defendants had already spent $43,750 on the remedial work.

The Court awarded additional damages to Mr Coles in the amount of $60,000 in light of Mr Coles’ attempts to negotiate and the defendants’ total disregard of Mr Coles’ rights. The flagrancy of the infringement, the conduct of the defendants, and the need to deter copyright infringements of this nature were key considerations in the award of additional damages, which, the Court stated, needed to carry the “appropriate punitive and deterrent sting”.

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