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Thread: Legal Questions about Design Copyrights and Liabilities (lawyers are welcome! ;-)

  1. #1

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    Shocked Legal Questions about Design Copyrights and Liabilities (lawyers are welcome! ;-)

    Hello,

    While researching building an aircraft using CAD and homebuilt CNC machines I have ended up with my test subject, a late 1960's design, nearly complete for cutting. The only thing stopping me is the next step, building the two CNC machines to do the actual cutting. I expect to have them completed and calibrated by late Fall 2012.

    So, here comes my question to those who dabble in the legal side of aviation; it would be a shame to waste this effort on a single build, can I use this to help others who want to build the same aircraft? I would love to add to the community!

    The problems arise even before we get to liability and those sorts of buzz killing questions!

    First, I don't own the design. The designer flew west about 10 years ago. A “popular aircraft parts supplier” and EAA were left as the "official" resellers of the plans and I assume his estate gets the profits.

    The actual work I have is in two parts, the CAD files and the G-Code (the machine instructions to do the actual cutting). Both of these parts are actually violation of the copyrights, should I choose to distribute them. Truthfully, I have no desire to distribute these parts as they are kind of like a "secret sauce," no different than the Col. Sander's chicken recipe!

    What I would love to do is write a more up to date guide to cutting and assembly using the CAD files to animate the illustrations. Give the builder a 3D and moving set of plans if you will. This guide would be on BluRay disc because it has proven to be copy safe and is an accepted format for distribution. I would also use the BluRay Live features to integrate with a Web site to institute updates and error corrections (as well as eliminate reselling of the discs).

    So, legally, this would be a work based on the original design, meant to enhance the builders experience but not add to the original design. How would I go about getting this to mesh with the older design's copyright? Buy a copy of the plans from EAA each time someone buys the disc or sell the disc through EAA and they take their cut accordingly?

    Also, what would be my exposure to liability in this "value added" scenario?

    Now, let's say I wanted to go a step further and offer a service to actually cut the parts from the raw material for the builder. After all, CNC machines only make since when they are run 24/7, right?

    This would be the old airplane model thing where the part would almost be cut out with little tabs still holding it into the sheet of plywood. The spars would have all the holes in the correct places so for the most part, everything is loosened with a Dremel tool and ready to be finished with sand paper and glued into place.

    I guess the builder would buy the wood kit from the "popular aircraft supply company" and have it shipped to me to cut and reshipped to wherever the builder is. Sounds costly and error prone!

    I might also do wing kits (the design is so simple that the left and right wings are identical, just assembled in the reverse order) and a fuselage kit but all that sounds harder.

    So legally, I know my exposure goes up considerably with cutting or the kits. Is there a way to protect myself in this day and age or am I putting a gun to my head and pulling the trigger?

    Also, what happens with the original holders of the design when I do a cutting service or a kit? Does EAA and the "popular aircraft supply company" sudden come in and get a percentage of the kit? Don't get me wrong, I love to share, especially if it helps EAA out but this is meant to put people in aircraft with as low of an entry price point as is possible. Once you have the raw material cost, shipping, liability, copyright holders it sounds like I have a $200K kit that's worth only $5k!

    Sounds like everything is too expensive and I should give up on this little dream....


    Thanks for any insight you may have.


    JB

  2. #2
    CarlOrton's Avatar
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    I'm not a lawyer, but thought I'd throw two thoughts out there.

    A few years ago, a Sonex builder wanted to take the plans, input them into his CNC machine, and make parts for other builders. Sonex LLC nixed that idea. They were fine with an individual builder using their plans and the builder's CNC equipment to create one set of parts for that one builder, but not for other builders. Never went to court, and I don't believe lawyers even got involved.

    The second thought is that you mentioned that a builder could buy a wood kit, ship it to you, and you'd cut out the parts. Since I'm assuming you would not do that for free, this could impact the 51% aspect of the kit, since you would be performing professional build services. Not saying it would. I don't know the kit to which you refer, so I don't know how much other work is involved. But, I believe the FAA wants to see a certain amount of fabrication, not just assembly of parts.

    If you're an EAA member, call the legal services department to see if they'd give you a 30 second quick determination. If you're then wanting to debate the issue with "Yeah, but..."s, you'll probably need to invest in a good aviation lawyer (who knows E/AB rules) since you'd be crafting a tap-dance around FAA wickets.

    It would be interesting to see how this works out, though!

    Carl Orton
    Sonex #1170
    http://mykitlog.com/corton

  3. #3

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    If you created an original "guide for assembly" intended to be used with (and useless without) the build plans, I don't see how it would be any different from, say, the sellers of aftermarket car repair manuals (which are in direct competition with the manufacturer's own, much more expensive, shop manuals. As far as building parts, it shouldn't be any different [legally] from a builder who hires an independent professional to assist with the build. But then I'm not a lawyer, and what seems reasonable and fair to a normal human being is often as not completely different for a lawyer.

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by CarlOrton View Post
    A few years ago, a Sonex builder wanted to take the plans, input them into his CNC machine, and make parts for other builders. Sonex LLC nixed that idea. They were fine with an individual builder using their plans and the builder's CNC equipment to create one set of parts for that one builder, but not for other builders.
    Common sense should have told that chap that he would never been able to sell such things because the Sonex Aircraft EULA states you have no right to reproduce, manufacture or otherwise offer for sale any parts, kits or even services based on the plans you purchased.

    The plans I have for this plane license me to build one plane as well but it stops short of going further in restrictions. That is were my questions begin!

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlOrton View Post
    The second thought is that you mentioned that a builder could buy a wood kit, ship it to you, and you'd cut out the parts. Since I'm assuming you would not do that for free, this could impact the 51% aspect of the kit, since you would be performing professional build services. Not saying it would. I don't know the kit to which you refer, so I don't know how much other work is involved. But, I believe the FAA wants to see a certain amount of fabrication, not just assembly of parts.
    Ah! What I do know, legally, is this would be a service allowable in the same frame as a professional welder or an engine mechanic helping on the engine. My service is to rough cut the parts, not finish them, thus the tab still holding it in the sheet of plywood ;-) Yup, splitting hairs! Sort of like a NASCAR team...

    If I made the kit I would get it certified as 51% even though that is not required to sell it. What I'm hoping is that getting something like a 51% registered kit of such an iconic classic out there would spur further experimentation would get EAA's attention. You have a 43 year old design that has a spectacular history of safety and is easy to build but is withering because nobody even realizes its still a viable design!

    Quote Originally Posted by CarlOrton View Post
    If you're an EAA member, call the legal services department to see if they'd give you a 30 second quick determination. If you're then wanting to debate the issue with "Yeah, but..."s, you'll probably need to invest in a good aviation lawyer (who knows E/AB rules) since you'd be crafting a tap-dance around FAA wickets.

    It would be interesting to see how this works out, though!

    Yes, I will do such things but first, throw it out to start getting feedback. Something I learned a long time ago about lawyers is that they are a lot like me in my profession, we really don't have time for the noobs . I want the "who, what, when and where" answered and in writing so the lawyer can look at it and not have to ask any questions. They like things in nice neat little packages. It make their lives so much more fun! It also cost me less...

    jb

  5. #5

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    Dana,

    Good point! The problem is I would be showing dimensional specs. That is where I get into trouble. The one thing I would be trying to do is take a 1965 to 1968 paper blueprint into a 2012/2013 3D interactive blueprint complete with real world photos and video of assembly. So, that was my first question, being so detailed it would have to be sold with a copy of the plans themselves since I'm not doing anything other than clarifying the original document.

    Thanks for the input!

    jb

  6. #6

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    **Disclaimer**
    I am not a lawyer and this is only my personal opinion!
    This information is free and worth every cent you paid for it.
    **

    Even if you can't make your CAD/CNC files for someone else's design available, you can still help the community by
    (1) making your equipment available for others to use (with supervision, I hope)
    (2) making CNC files for others who have the legal right to manufacture those parts
    (3) making your own designs available
    (4) teaching others how to make, tune, and maintain cnc routers
    (5) teaching others how to make, tweak, and use CAD/CNC

    This is precisely the kind of question we're trying to dig up answers for with our open-source airplane work. Please check out the open-source airplane thread here in homebuilder's corner, and send John Nicol an email.
    Richard Johnson, EAA #395588

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by subnoize View Post
    Common sense should have told that chap that he would never been able to sell such things because the Sonex Aircraft EULA states you have no right to reproduce, manufacture or otherwise offer for sale any parts, kits or even services based on the plans you purchased
    IMHO, Sonex missed a bet here. They should instead test the CAD/CNC designs internally to vet the work and the output, work with the guy to make them the best possible for Sonex, then buy them. Then Sonex could offer the CNC files as an option that phenomenally reduces build time and cost, but doesn't (so far as I know) greatly impact the 51%.
    Richard Johnson, EAA #395588

  8. #8
    FlyingRon's Avatar
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    Making CNC files for the plane or even building the planes themslves from the plans is generally regarded to be a derivative work and requires license from the copyright owner. I don't know how you'd get around this although I've not seen anybody actually sued for building unauthorized copies (even in architecture where there's a bit more solid money involved, it often goes overlooked).

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by spungey View Post
    IMHO, Sonex missed a bet here. They should instead test the CAD/CNC designs internally to vet the work and the output, work with the guy to make them the best possible for Sonex, then buy them. Then Sonex could offer the CNC files as an option that phenomenally reduces build time and cost, but doesn't (so far as I know) greatly impact the 51%.
    I believe Sonex parts are already produced via CNC. If Sonex wanted to sell CNC files, they'd be far better off selling their own than to spend the effort to check out someone's reverse-engineering of their own work.

    And what's to Sonex's benefit, here? Why should they accept liability for a third-party product (they would assume liability by "accepting" the CNC files as correct)? Sonex is in business selling airplane kits, why should they stab themselves in the back by selling files that would let people avoid buying their product?

    Ron Wanttaja

  10. #10

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    Sad hmmm...

    Quote Originally Posted by FlyingRon View Post
    Making CNC files for the plane or even building the planes themslves from the plans is generally regarded to be a derivative work and requires license from the copyright owner. I don't know how you'd get around this although I've not seen anybody actually sued for building unauthorized copies (even in architecture where there's a bit more solid money involved, it often goes overlooked).
    I might just write a how-to type interactive disc/book. Avoid the copyrights and stuff altogether and use the design I have as a wood example and do a Sonex scratch built as a metal example. Talk about the how and why, not the what. Sell the disc for lots-o-bucks and take the profit and use it to build a slick VW powered, tandom seat carbon fiber monster of my own design. Use the CNC to cut the molds and go all high tech but keep it under 10 grand minus engine and instruments.

    As to the open source plane, isn't that the piper cub? I don't see any value in reinventing the wheel, maybe making it easier to make a wheel of your own! We'll see! I'm a long way off and if the real world keeps showing up at my door with its hand out I probably will never even get to the little wooden plane...

    Jb

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