It seems as though the complex case of architectural copyright has been a major talking point of 2014. As the year begins to draw to a close, a fresh tension has risen between two European offices. British practice Wilkinson Eyre have claimed that a central structure at the site of the 2015 Milan Expo is direct plagiarism of their Cooled Conservatories at Gardens by the Bay project in Singapore, completed in 2012. According to an article in The Telegraph, the 'Tree of Life' will "form the centre-piece of the Italian pavilion" in Milan.
When an eminent jurist asks, “What does a copyright of an architectural work truly protect?” you may be certain the question is not rhetorical. The U.S. Copyright Act does provide protection from infringement for architectural works, but it does so in terms so ambiguous that a judge might wonder, as did federal district court judge James Lawrence King in a case he decided earlier this year, whether broadly applicable standards for determining infringement even exist. Finding “the usual analysis … too vague and the language misleading,” King blazed a trail of his own in Sieger Suarez Architectural Partnership v. Arquitectonica International Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19140, proposing detailed guideposts for future courts to follow.
Sieger Suarez involved two Miami architectural firms and a 43-story condominium tower nearing completion in suburban Sunny Isles. The Sieger Suarez firm was engaged in 2000 by the project’s first owner. When the project, now known as Regalia, changed hands, the new owners dropped Sieger Suarez and engaged Arquitectonica in 2006. This is a scenario made familiar in scores of disputes involving allegations of infringement of architectural works.
Befitting a beachfront property with floor-through units starting at $7 million, both designs present dramatic, undulating exteriors. “When facing any of the buildings' four sides,” King wrote in his opinion, “the façades create the impression of a wave rippling horizontally across the sides of the buildings.” Further, in cross-section, both buildings reveal what King described as a “flower shape,” “a stylized rectangle, with gently rounded corners and an outward bulge more-or-less in the center of each of the four sides.” Should this flower shape, combined with the wavelike exteriors, have been enough to sustain Sieger Suarez’s claim of infringement against its competitor and the property’s owners?
The results of this Court Case, and what they could mean for architectural copyright in general, after the break...
When we see another Eiffel Tower, idyllic English village, or, most recently, a Zaha Hadid shopping mall, copied in China, our first reaction is to scoff. Heartily. To suggest that it is - once again - evidence of China’s knock-off culture, its disregard for uniqueness, its staggering lack of innovation.
Even I, reporting on the Chinese copy of the Austrian town of Halstatt, fell into the rhetorical trap: “The Chinese are well-known for their penchant for knock-offs, be it brand-name handbags or high-tech gadgets, but this time, they’ve taken it to a whole other level.” Moreover, as Guy Horton has noted, we are keen to describe designers in the West as “emulating,” “imitating,” and “borrowing”; those in the East are almost always “pirating.”
However, when we allow ourselves, even unconsciously, to settle into the role of superior scoffer, we do not just the Chinese, but ourselves, a disservice: first, we fail to recognize the fascinating complexity that lies behind China’s built experimentation with Western ideals; and, what’s more, we fail to look in the mirror at ourselves, and trouble our own unquestioned values and supposed superiority.
In the next few paragraphs, I’d like to do both.
With all the recent controversy over Zaha Hadid's "copycats" in China, we decided it would be wise to get a better understanding of the often murky world of architectural copyright. In that effort, we've decided to re-print an article by Attorney Jeffrey M. Reichard, who practices construction and intellectual property law with Nexsen Pruet in Greensboro, NC, and knows a thing or two (or ten!) about the subject. The article was originally published as a Construction Law Alert for clients of his firm.
Some people say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, under architectural copyright law, imitation could be a very costly endeavor. Here are ten tips to help contractors, owners and architects protect themselves from architectural copyright disputes.
See the 10 Things You Need to Know About Architectural Copyright, after the break...