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Court battle provokes design copyright fears

London-based KSS Design Group is about to go before the High Court in a case that could change the way architects practice in the UK.

If the judgement goes against the firm, it may set a 'dangerous precedent' for the ownership of designs

and models.

A writ was issued last week by Bacassa, the developer of one of KSS' most significant projects - the 101ha Black Bess Plantation in Barbados. The developer had commissioned KSS to draw up plans for a radical transformation of the site.

Bacassa planned to build an 18-hole golf course, a spa hotel and a series of 'high-quality villas and townhouses' on the site.

But the two parties are now locked in a bitter legal dispute over fees. KSS has been desperately fighting

to win what it believes are unpaid bills from the developer.

Bacassa, which has now sold the site, has launched a counter bid to claim back what are described as 'overpaid' fees. It is understood that the figures involved are 'substantial'.

However, the most important element of the legal battle is that the developer is seeking a court ruling that it owns the copyright on all plans, drawings, diagrams, documents and models prepared by KSS for the development.

Bacassa is demanding that the court declare it has a royalty-free exclusive licence to use, copy, and alter all

plans, documents and models prepared and provided to it by KSS between December 2003 and 2004 for the development and operation of the plantation.

This includes all documentation relating to the design, construction, reconstruction, alteration, maintenance, promotion, advertising, sale and financing of the development.

KSS's legal team will argue that if Bacassa was to win the right to use all the practice's work, it will

set a dangerous precedent for ownership and the right to use architectural work.

It is understood that, since commissioning the work on the Black Bess resort, Bacassa has set about selling the land - but has had trouble securing a deal because it does not control the designs.

by Ed Dorrell

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