I've been involved in a couple of interesting conversations lately about digital documents and architectural copyright. The trend towards digital document distribution and use is accelerating and this is raising concerns from some who are considering the impact of technology like ftp sites, DVD's, online reprographic services and document control systems. The question people are wrestling with seems to be whether providing access to digital documents compromises the design copyright.
There is little question that legally the copyright exists and is in full force and effect irrespective of the format of the information. So what appears to be underlying the question is more a matter of whether digital access makes it easier for someone to review and potentially ‘liberate' details and design concepts. The answer to that is, maybe. If documents are posted on an open site where access is freely available to anyone who has access to the internet then of course it is much easier for the world at large to get the information. If however, the documents are managed in a properly designed site with appropriate security and controls then it is not easy and is likely much better control than issuing paper.
A properly designed system will include tracking mechanisms to document who is accessing information and what they are doing with it. Even so, whether access is provided digitally or paper is distributed, once the documents are out there, the ability to control what happens to them is extremely limited. In the overwhelming majority of cases the information is being used for the purposes intended with no copyright infringement. While there are legitimate concerns about copyright protection, the advantages of properly managed digital distribution of project documents far outweigh the minimal risk of infringement.