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To whom does it belong?

The High Court case of Signature Reality v Fortis Developments [2016] EWHC 3583 (Ch) contains important reminders from the judge re planning matters.  First “Anybody can apply for planning permission to develop any land and any granted permission relates to the land and what may be done with it.  There are no statutory or other intellectual property rights in the planning permission itself; anyone may avail themselves of it so long as they satisfy the conditions.”  Second, “when an architect is engaged by a client to prepare drawings to obtain planning consent for a development, there is an implied licence to the client to use the drawings for all purposes connected with the erection on the site of the development to which the plans relate, and the client can transfer that licence to a purchaser of the site.”  (See Blair v Osborne & Tomkins [1971] 2 QB 78.)  Third, “It is usual that planning permission is granted by reference to drawings which illustrate the existing and proposed development and it is usual for there to be a condition of the grant that the development is carried out in accordance with specified drawings.  In that way the local authority controls any development in its locality.”

It was against that background that the judge had to consider the facts in the Signature case.  Two parties were interested in purchasing two office blocks with the intention of turning the buildings into student accommodation.  One party applied for and obtained planning permission but it was the second party that bought the properties.  In carrying out its development, the purchaser used the other party’s drawings referred to in the planning permission for marketing, development and construction purposes.  The drawings were readily available on the local planning authority’s website.  The unsuccessful proposed purchaser claimed breach of copyright in respect of each document.

The judge examined each allegation and did find breach of copyright.  However, he refused to assess damages (ordering an account) and refused an injunction and additional damages under s97(2) Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.  Nevertheless, the case stands as a warning not to forget the law relating to copyright even in publicly produced documents.

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