Releasing CAD Files to Clients

Damian Harrison , 12 June 2013

Architects are increasingly being asked to release CAD files to clients. What are the implications of doing so? Damian Harrison of BJS Insurance Brokers gives an insurance perspective.

I have been asked a couple of times in the last month about potential insurance issues surrounding architects releasing CAD files to their clients, which suggests that requests of this type are becoming more frequent.

From an insurance perspective, the vast majority of professional indemnity insurance providers will not offer any opinion whatsoever as they would rather leave the matter to the discretion of each individual practice.

I feel that any terms of engagement need to make it clear that the architect retains intellectual property, and that this includes the CAD drawings. Additionally the terms of engagement should state whether the architect is, in fact, prepared to release the CAD files and, if so, under what terms and at what additional cost.

If you do release the files to your clients, then be aware of the following implications:

  • The documents could contain your own notes, which may not appear on any plans and, dependent on the wording of such notes, this could potentially cause privacy/liability issues.
  • Simply removing identifiable information from the files (such as your logo, address, etc) does not diminish any of your legal responsibilities.
  • Other parties may have had an involvement in completing the final drawings, such as your contractors or sub-consultants.
  • Incorporating a signed disclaimer holding you harmless may take away some legal liability. However, this only pertains to your client involved in this agreement. It does not prevent other parties making a future claim against your practice.
  • Certain federal and state laws may overrule any contractual warranties, which may be contained in disclaimers or contracts.

My personal opinion is that these files are your own documents and you should only provide PDF copies. However, if you do decide to release the files, ensure that an appropriate disclaimer is included and signed. This should grant the client a non-exclusive licence solely for the purposes of altering and constructing the project, and hold you harmless and indemnify you for all costs and expenses arising from any alteration to the files (appropriate legal advice should be sought on the exact phrasing of any disclaimer).

BIM projects provide a slightly different context, although an insurance company would never preclude or place any restrictions on BIM projects. The only issues are more risk management factors – it is important to ensure that there is a clear definition and concise responsibility between all parties for their roles in the process, and that this is legally binding with regard to any potential collaborative issues (such as intellectual property and the privacy act).

If a claim was made, the insurers have to thoroughly investigate what part the respective stakeholders had in the project (predominantly their own insured). The more notes and information recorded, the easier it becomes to understand and, more importantly, apportion any respective blame for each of the individual parties. This means that thorough documentation and notes are vital.

Damian Harrison is a senior account manager at BJS Insurance Brokers. This article was first published in ACA Communique, June 2013. 

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