Patrick Barthet, founded The Barthet Firm, an 11-lawyer construction law firm in Miami, and regularly contributes to construction law blog.

Can Survey Plans Be Copyrighted?

Are surveyor’s drawings entitled to the same protections as an architect’s blueprints? That depends.

December 14, 2017

The leading case on this issue comes out of New York. A surveyor prepared a site plan for the construction of a new building. The plan consisted of a depiction of the grade, land contours, and a proposed location for the building and utilities. During construction, the original surveyor was terminated and an amended survey plan was used. The new plan was substantially similar to the original, prompting the first surveyor to file a copyright infringement suit.

The district court found that the site plan was not copyrightable and noted that the identification of existing physical characteristics of the site, such as elevation measurements and location of boundaries, are not afforded copyright protection. 

But the appellate court vacated the district court’s decision, noting that—along with the existing physical characteristics of the site, which do not contain any originality on the part of the author—the original survey plans also contained detailed specifications for the improvement of the site, and these were entitled to copyright protection.

Based on this ruling, merely identifying existing factual information about the site—abutting parcels, public streets, elevations, and existing structures—wouldn’t be copyrightable. However, detailed specifications for the preparation and improvement of the site showing original and creative authorship would be entitled to copyright protection.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. 

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