Design copyright.


I've been a regular browser of the LJN over the years, great informative website which has answered many questions....I felt compelled to post tonight as I'm spitting feathers over what looks like a blatant rip off of a design I put together for a potential client who made an enquiry, I didn't get the job unfortunately (price..that old chestnut)... to cut a long story short, looking on FB tonight and images of a local company on my feed show the garden I priced up and did drawings for..guess what it's  pretty much the same as the images I put together after spending several evenings of my time putting together.

I've read posts over the years regarding similar issues people have experienced, maybe I'm too trusting...I visit the client, put together a design, usually fairly detailed which amounts to hours of my time, I know there's probably bugger all I can do about...they'll deny it..blah, the heat of the moment I've thought about emailing  the client and ask them how they feel about using my work which they got for free to get their garden done...probably not sensible, I'm just really f****d off and wonder how to deal with situations like this now and in the future.



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  • Did you charge them for your design? Just out of interest. 

    I know contractors who have implemented others designs - as clients have chosen to not go ahead with the original (possibly price related). This is based on the assumption the client has paid for the designs. I suppose the client could always lie and say they have. The contractor should maybe contact the previous company - but that is potentially quite awkward! 

    Do you have a copy of your drawings? It would be interesting to see your drawings and the photos to get an opinion on here. Can you post them?

    I have to say I am in favour of design and build being separate businesses (not just because I am designer) but because it keeps these issues from happening. The client pays for the design and then anyone can build it - be it a preferred contractor, it goes to tender, or one the client has chosen. 

    Landscapers who design should, in my opinion, ALWAYS charge for their designs. Again, if the client chooses to not go ahead, at least your time and skills have been paid for.

  • Fully agree that design has to be chargeable. You need to be able to close the job after the design and make a living, and perhaps offer a preferential rate for build if they choose you. 

    Sorry, I can't help with what to do in this present situation; chalk it down to experience I suspect. 

  • been there on the receiving end of that. ill put this drawing together for the client, they'll be really impressed and il get the job. oh i didn't and someone else has done it for them.

    i reckon 90% of my work doesnt need a drawing as you can talk it through with the client and they know pretty much what they want, i put together a quote and then if they like it and they've secured the job, ill do a quick sketch. 

    if prior to the quote they want a design drawing, they pay for it. They get a scale drawing, that any decent contractor can then build from, with design spec etc. if they dont want to pay for it, then i dont do the job. your time is valuable. if you were a painter, would you paint one wall of a house free of charge to see if they liked the colour? You're not charging because you are worried you wont get the work. it takes hours of your time to do. Decent clients value peoples work and professionalism, thats why they ask you there. you can always charge for teh work and then say you will take it off the final bill if they go ahead with you

  • PRO
    Regardless of whether you’ve charged for the design or not you still own the copyright to it.

    Your client cannot use it without your consent.

    I had the same thing happen to me. I supplied a drawing to a long-term client who then had a garden designer re-draw the plan. I was then sent the drawing and asked to quote for what was essentially my design.

    I retrospectively charged him, told him what I thought of him and we parted company.

    Ironically he was the boss of a greeting card company where copyright, one would assume, is an important issue.

    I’d send a bill and charge expenses and threaten legal action.
  • Copyright is a difficult subject.

    The law is very loose in the UK and open to interpretation. From experience in other design industries, one only needs to change a small amount for the design to be different. For example, if the planting is changed. Or the gravel, or paving type etc.A judge has very little guidance and has to use his own perception of the vague laws... 

    If you weren't happy with giving 'free advice' then you charge for your time at a 'design meeting'.

    Always outline your costs, keep everything written (emails are legal documents) and nail the conversation down legally.

    Most designers set out parameters before-hand. 

    Sorry. It's a difficult one to learn. Count yourself lucky it wasn't a contract that depended on hundred's of thousands of quid in pre-ordered stock that had then been copied and pushed to market by cheap high-street counterfeiters before delivery...that one was painful.

  • PRO

    The same thing happened to me years ago, a client blatantly stole my design and got someone else to do the build. The lesson here is to always charge where possible. I stress where possible because a lot of clients baulk at the idea of paying hundreds of pounds for a design from a landscaper. From their point of view they see it as a risk paying for a design when they have no idea what the build costs are and if they are even going to be able to afford it. The way I approach things now is I will do a layout for the client and show them my ideas and what the likely costs will be but I will not leave the plans with them. If they want a copy of the plans then they will need to pay a deposit which I will deduct from the build if they give me the contract. It's not an ideal scenario and I understand it won't go down well with those who specialise in garden design only, however when it comes to bringing the work in, it's an effective means to an end.  

  • I am in a different situation to you, as I work as an independent Garden Designer, and then find companies to do the work for the client (but supply the plants, as I also run a ornamental plant nursery). This is how I work:

    1. I always charge for that first visit. Just a flat, one hour charge.That gets rid of all the nosy parkers, who just want to hear your opinion.

    2. Then I put together a Design Fee Proposal, which lists my charges, broken down in stages, and also gives an indication of the likely overall build cost of the project (that means sometimes spending a little time dreaming up a "fictive" design, based on my discussions with them, but it's worth it, as they will know what they're getting themselves in to!). I send them that, plus a standard contract. If they're happy, they sign. I also give them an opening, in my supporting email, to come back and discuss, in case they are not happy, and then we can try and tailor the project to what they really need, or can afford.

    3. I bill them at every stage, so charges don't mount up, and so that they feel in control.My fee proposal is also always expressed as"in the range of", and has a 10% contingency built in. This means there should be very little dispute.

    I have had one or two instances of people taking my design, then letting someone else implement it, but that has been rare. Only once, did someone refuse to pay: and that was the husband of a so called 'friend'! Friend no more, I say.

    Hope this helps. You need to be hard; don't think giving your intellectual property away buys you any favours with clients. They respect a professional approach; most of them, at least. And the other ones, you're better off without, IMHO.


  • Thank you all for your input, much looks like this aspect of my quoting format needs to be addressed.

    In the past I've felt a bit awkward about charging for a design up front as I like to create a simple yet pretty effective plan in Sketch up, the potential clients seem to like this as it gives them a good idea of what they'll be getting, some customers just can't visualise a space ,but this method really helps.

    I do tend to retrospectively build the cost into the final quote, but obviously that only pays off if I get the project.

    This method has always seemed to work as I've got the majority of the work, as my business has grown and I've got busier its obvious I need to formulate some kind of contract as has been's tough being self-employed!!...

    Wouldn't change it though....

    • you might feel awkward, but every client that it has ever come up with has happily paid it and never had an issue with it. people expect to pay for your time and your skill, so charge for it. 

  • PRO


    Late to the conversation, but here to back up helpful comments.

    Absolutely always charge for design work.

    Like Yiva I charge a small fee for the initial design visit to get rid of timewasters. We discuss budget at that meet and I do push for a ballpark range, giving helpful hints about previous gardens. That way I can give them a more useful design - and they get that. Then they get a design brief, agree it and my fee,and then we'll start on the design proper

    I am currently design only (son Nathan has separate landscaping business) but even when I was design and build I kept them separate.

    The initial design concept they receive (after deposit payment of c 50%) isn't to scale and is sketchy on some other issues too. It is stated in the design brief that it will be.  We then discuss and amend that at a meeting. Then they get the final concept at the next meeting when I get paid the balance. Generally the final planting lists and plans are finished during the rest of the landscaping, as my clients like to spend time on this element, and I like to plant it up. Perhaps discussing fruit trees and pretty flowers helps to ignore the mud that used to be a lawn when the build has reached the 'looks worse' stage!

    I learnt the hard way not to give an all singing and dancing design before I'd had all the money...I guess we've all been there, however careful we think we're being!


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