I would suspect copyright infringement is not high on your list of priorities if you are a property developer.

But if you buy property subject to planning you need to be alert to the potential pitfalls.

Quick facts.  

A property developer (B) bought a property subject to planning permission that had been obtained by another property developer (A) who was unable to purchase the site due to lack of development finance. The fact  A never owned the property is the crux of this case, as you will see.

A sued B for infringement of copyright in the drawings in relation to the promotion, marketing and construction of the development on the site.

On the facts it does seem B was dealt a harsh blow.

The planning permission was granted on condition that the development was carried out in complete accordance with A’s drawings.

B admitted that it had obtained the drawings from the local authority’s portal, but argued that it did not copy the drawings as it had engaged its own architects, who had produced their own drawings. However, because the build had to satisfy the conditions of the planning consent, there were instances in their use of the drawings where the new architects’ drawings were sufficiently similar to constitute copyright infringement.

The Court held there was an infringement and granted damages, not an injunction.

Normally, when you buy land subject to planning you have an implied right to use the drawings to which the planning relates.

However, since A never owned the land no such implied right could be transferred.

My advice is to avoid any hassle and always get an explicit right to the use the drawings.

Case: Signature Realty Ltd v Fortis Developments Ltd and another [2016] EWHC 3583 (Ch).