AutoCAD drawing files: possession is 9/10 of the law?

The title sums up the puzzling conclusion in a recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling (CA6 Grusenmeyer Decision.pdf) in a decision about a copyright infringement claim filed by Cleveland architect Jeffrey Grusenmeyer.

Grusenmeyer had contracted to provide a “master plan” for Magnificat High School. The master plan was provided to Magnificat in hardcopy format, Magnificat paid the architect $15,000 as agreed in the contract, and the project was apparently concluded. Some time later, a Magnificat facility manager requested DWG files for “personal use”. Grusenmeyer asserted at the time that he retained all rights to the DWG files but agreed to provide them on the condition they only be used internally and not be further distributed.

Fast forward to the eventual “request for proposal” for an anticipated new building at the school. Upon request, Magnificat provided the Grusenmeyer files to the defendants (a competing architectural firm), who then used portions of the files in their winning proposal. The defendants were aware that Grusenmeyer claimed copyrights to the files, but they used the files anyway. The appeals court notes that “[a]ccording to the individual DSC architects, such reliance on drawings of existing conditions is routine in the industry.”

In affirming the district court’s summary judgement in favor of the defendants, the appeals court noted that the contract between Grusenmeyer and his client (Magificat High School) provided that Grusenmeyer would “provide a master plan for the implementation of the capital improvements program, including plans, renderings, and perspectives suitable for use in presentation and future reference during master plan implementation.” They concluded that this “plain language” gave Magnificat permission to send the AutoCAD DWG files to Grusenmeyer’s competitor.

The district court had previously ruled that Grusenmeyer’s drawings were not sufficiently original to warrant copyright protection, but the appeals court did not address the copyrightability issue at all, dismissing the infringement claim out of hand with their opinion that Grusenmeyer had already given Magnificat carte blanche copyrights to the files vis a vis the quoted clause in their contract — even though the files were never provided as part of the contract!

I think the court erred in determining that the DWG files were subject to the terms of the master plan contract (its incorrect interpretation of the contract notwithstanding), but what I find really surprising in the ruling is the appellate court’s complete disregard of the plaintiff’s claimed and federally registered copyrights.

The moral of the story
If you are providing electronic files, don’t rely on copyright law alone to protect your intellectual property. This case reinforces the 3 C’s for protecting AutoCAD DWG files: copyright, contract, and CADLock.

Update
William Patry (Senior Copyright Counsel, Google Inc.) writes about this case at The Patry Copyright Blog: Make Sure the Contract is Signed.

I’ll take web sites for $200, Alex: Part I

I’m one of those throwbacks that learned HTML by typing it in Notepad. I’ve since moved up to using the Visual Studio editor; it does syntax coloring, error highlighting, and has a “design” mode for previewing the page, yet it’s a very utilitarian editor that I feel comfortable with. I do use FrontPage when I need to manage connections between multiple HTML pages, but mostly in raw HTML mode. When I use WYSIWYG design mode in FrontPage, I inevitably end up cleaning out a lot of unnecessary junk that it includes in the generated HTML. I think it’s fair to say that my obsession with clean HTML results in utilitarian, functional, and standards conformant presentations — but with a decided lack of graphic appeal.

The ManuSoft and CADLock web sites are examples of this utilitarian approach. The ManuSoft site uses no fancy graphics and relies very little on client side scripting, and it supports a hierarchical navigation system using only standard hyperlinks. I like that minimalist approach, but the price for clean HTML being served to clients is a lot of work on the server to maintain the site. As a result, I don’t update the site very often because it’s just too difficult.

This blog was the first step toward realizing a goal of making it easier to add new content. After all, the raison d’ĂȘtre of blogs is to minimize the latency between the writer’s stream of consciousness and words on the web by making it irresistibly easy to add new content. This is precisely why blogs have become so popular.

Unfortunately, I soon found limitations with my blog. Tabular lists of data still require manual HTML input, it is difficult to customize the content area outside the individual posts on the blog page, and most aspects of the hosted blog software are outside my control. I wanted more.

The Autodesk vs. Open Design Alliance lawsuit gave me an excuse to take the next step: implement the “blog” concept across an entire web site with software that I control. So, I decided to swallow my pride and learn how to create an entire web site that would be so easy to update that I would actually update it frequently — even if it meant messy HTML code. Stay tuned for Part II, choosing a hosting service and deciding which software to use.

AutoCAD LT Upgrade Windfall

Did you know that Autodesk is offering a promotional upgrade price to AutoCAD LT users until January 19th? Check out http://www.adskhost.net/43404/solution.php. According to that web page, you can upgrade an AutoCAD LT 2004/2005/2006 license to any one of several AutoCAD 2007 based software offerings from AutoCAD 2007 to Inventor Series — for $1995. If you have an LT license, now might be a good time to upgrade it.

Coming up for air

While the rest of you were busy enjoying the holiday break, I’ve had my nose to the grindstone. I had been looking for an opportunity to learn more about ASP.NET and web site content management, and the Autodesk vs. ODA web site that I started recently was a perfect opportunity. After 3 weeks of sometimes frustrating adventures, the new site is now live (although still not quite finished).

Total cost of the site, including hosting for 2 years? About $200 and a lot of lost sleep. Over the next week or so I will be documenting some of the things I learned along the way.

Visual Studio 2005 Service Pack 1 is here!

Finally, the long awaited service pack 1 for Visual Studio 2005 is released! The service pack has been in the pipeline since soon after Visual Studio 2005 shipped last November, with release dates slipping month after month. The latest official release date was announced as “early 2007”. Perhaps this was an intentional attempt to alleviate some of the waiting pains with a suprise release (or maybe just the Microsoft rumor mill on autopilot).

Be prepared for a long install. The download page warns that it could take an hour or more to verify digital signatures before the service pack installation even begins.