This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
In the absence of any agreement as to the ownership of plans, it is impossible to make any general statement as to the law on that point. Whether the property in the plans passes to the employer, or whether, on the analogy of notes made by other professional men, such as physicians and lawyers, the property in the plans remains in the architect, the right to the use and possession during the construction being in the builder, is a question to be answered only upon examination of the law in each jurisdiction. The tendency of the lower courts of the different states seems to be toward the former view. It is however said to be the almost universal custom in England and the United States for the architect to retain the plans after the completion of the structure. And it is now customary to insert in the building contract a stipulation that plans shall remain the property of the architect. While this is evidence of the agreement with the archi-tect to the same effect, it would seem desirable that this agreement be expressly made between the two persons interested, the owner and the architect.
However doubtful the actual ownership of the architect's plans may be, it is clear that until they are published, as it is called, that is, given out by the architect so that anyone may see them, no one except his client has the right to copy, reproduce, or otherwise use them, without the architect's permission. This right of the architect not to have his plans used without his permission ceases after publication. Whether plans have been published is a question to be decided on the facts of each case, but it is clear that by selling the plans outright the architect loses all right not to have them used. Where plans are submitted to competition for a cash prize, it has been held that the plans awarded prizes become the property of the party inviting the competition. Whether or not an architect's plans or drawings of a building may be copyrighted is an open question.