Neighbor Sues For $2.5 Million After Renovation Looks Too Much Like Their Own House

from the copyright-madness dept

Copyright on home design has always been a really sketchy idea. Earlier this year, we wrote about a disturbing trend of housing copyright trolls and have had some other similar stories over time. For reasons that are beyond me, the Berne Convention requires copyright on architecture, and that creates silly situations, such as the one in Australia, where a homeowner was forced to modify their home due to "infringement."

And this nonsense has spread to Canada. The Toronto Star has the story of a couple, Jason and Jodi Chapnik, living in Forest Hill, Toronto (one of the "most affluent neighborhoods" in Toronto), who sued their neighbors for $2.5 million for the horrific faux pas of renovating their house to look too much like the Chapniks.

Jason and Jodi Chapnik, who own the home on Strathearn Rd., near Bathurst and Eglinton Sts., alleged that a house on nearby Vesta Dr. was newly renovated to look “strikingly similar” to theirs — including using the same shade of blue and matching grey stonework.

The Chapniks filed a lawsuit against neighbour Barbara Ann Kirshenblatt, her builder husband and architect brother-in-law for copyright infringement in federal court, as well as the real estate agent who profited from the house’s recent sale and the anonymous contractors who worked on the house. They were seeking $1.5 million in damages, $20,000 in statutory copyright damages, $1 million in punitive damages, and a mandatory injunction on the defendant to change the design of the home.

Of all the things in the world to be concerned about, how totally screwed up must your priorities be to freak out that someone around the corner has a house that looks kinda similar? The story notes that the case went on for 3 years, before recently being settled. As Kirshenblatt noted in filings in the case, nearly all of the so-called copied features appear to be pretty standard features you'd see in nearly any Tudor-style house -- and they pointed to other properties (including a Scottish castle) with similar features that they based their house on.

The whole thing is a reminder, yet again, of the ridiculousness of locking up ideas like home design under copyright. No one is inspired to design a house because of the copyright you get. There is no necessary incentive there. People design homes not for the copyright, but for the home. What a complete waste of time.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 3:49pm

    They copied other things too

    Both homes have walls, roofs and floors clearly copying the first. They also have lawns, use outside air and have water and electrical incorporated right into the home itself.

    Madness.

    Next thing you know, they will be installing a driveway, walkway and wait... They already copied those too. Those bastards are going to pay now.

    Some people really need to just be barred from every using the court to demonstrate their insanity. Maybe they should be wearing a helmet and bite guard to prevent the online assaults that they deserve for bringing a lawsuit like this in the first place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 3:50pm

    It's not that outrageous of a lawsuit. I've seen lawsuits about trees blocking the view of a neighbor view. The parties were arguing about which branch and limbs to trim and the legal costs was in the $200,000+

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 16 Oct 2017 @ 4:07pm

    So I guess borrowing a cup of sugar is out.

    And you can't comment on the article because they obviously value user relationships.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 4:18pm

    Next anti-copyright piece, please,

    and try to make it actually copyright, not battles of The Rich over status symbols. (That was my subject line, quickly censored, in one prior piece.)

    Sheesh. You're yet again incensed over a LOST battle in settled law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 4:18pm

      Re: Next anti-copyright piece, please,

      It's easy to understand why copyright applies to architecture: even the least of efforts to make a house livable besides the mechanical and wiring layout requires orders of magnitude more effort and ability than blathering on how shocking and horrible and stifling of creativity it is that these (rich persons) can't copy a design.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 4:19pm

        Re: Re: Next anti-copyright piece, please,

        Tell ya what, Masnick. Just sit down with a blank sheet of paper and design a house. I don't mean draw a facade and leave details to "workers", but sit down and specify a workable plan with electricles, ventricles, insulage, pipage, sewerage, broadband cabling, outside covering, windowage, numerous components within: light switches, outlets, and door latches at least, load limits, and so on, all with optimum use of space and minimum materials, besides convenient to live in, and that can actually be built and up to code. -- You can't do it, college boy. First, you're too lazy. 2nd, you're not competent at integrating the wide range of knowledge: all your "work" experience is simply the WRITING OPINIONS from out of the blue.


        Sprawling because of a length limit Techdirt now imposes.

        Are you happier with three headings rather than one?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Roger Strong (profile), 16 Oct 2017 @ 4:46pm

          Re: Re: Re: Next anti-copyright piece, please,

          Sprawling because of a length limit Techdirt now imposes.

          Which was clearly unneeded, because...

          You can't do it, college boy.

          ...your belief that education and intelligence are an insult tells us everything we need to know about you and your opinions.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 4:47pm

          Re: Re: Re: Next anti-copyright piece, please,

          sit down and specify a workable plan with electricles, ventricles, insulage, pipage, sewerage, broadband cabling, outside covering, windowage, numerous components within: light switches, outlets, and door latches at least, load limits, and so on, all with optimum use of space and minimum materials, besides convenient to live in, and that can actually be built and up to code.

          Literally nothing you just listed is covered by copyright.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 5:06pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Next anti-copyright piece, please,

            They're not, of course. It goes to show how bastardized copyright has become, and how entitled copyright advocates behave.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 4:47pm

    It's an infringing day in the neighbourhood, an infringing day in the neighbourhood, and won't you be my plaintiff...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 5:04pm

    People design homes not for the copyright, but for the home.

    Tell that to the heirs of Frank Lloyd Wright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      cpt kangarooski, 16 Oct 2017 @ 5:16pm

      Re:

      Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t ever get a copyright for an architectural work in the US, but that didn’t stop him.

      And that’s fundamentally the problem with copyrights for architectural works: they harm the public by imposing restrictions while providing no incentive for architects to create works they otherwise would not have created and made public.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 5:24pm

    Look, it's really very simple. If copyright isn't forcibly enforced for homes, then nobody will build homes. And we could get along very well without commercial pop music, but everybody needs homes.

    And it's not just copyright that Masnick is maligning. Why shouldn't I be able to trademark "use of gray stone as an architectural element"? Think how much richer Wright's heirs could be if he had only thought to trademark "use of concrete in private residences"! And think how many homes Wright will not design, because he knows that OTHER PEOPLE ARE USING CONCRETE!

    Creativity shouldn't be an issue here, except perhaps the creativity of the lawyers filing paperwork. And this is a good thing, because ... it's just not that hard to design or build a house. They teach it in high school, as our anonymous friend from the short bus would have known if he'd stayed out of jail that long.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whoever, 16 Oct 2017 @ 5:54pm

    Easy way out for defendant.

    The neighbours don't own the copyright on their home.

    Their architect does.

    The don't have standing to sue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Zem, 16 Oct 2017 @ 9:42pm

      Re: Easy way out for defendant.

      I am an architect. Many of us see copyright over architecture a bit of a joke. We share, steal, borrow ideas from each other all the time. This has been going on for 100's if not 1000's of years. and we are all better off because of it.

      Normally when someone gets done for copyright infringement it isn't for the actual building, but the plans the building were built with.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Kal Zekdor (profile), 16 Oct 2017 @ 11:17pm

        Re: Re: Easy way out for defendant.

        I feel like architectural copyrights should be like software copyrights. If another architect directly copies from a building's plans without permission, that would be infringement. If they independently design a building, then regardless if it shares design elements, or even if it's a carbon copy, that's fine.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 12:48am

          Re: Re: Re: Easy way out for defendant.

          In software, people use other peoples code all the time, indeed often most of the code in a new program is other people code in the libraries used by the program.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          cpt kangarooski, 17 Oct 2017 @ 4:34am

          Re: Re: Re: Easy way out for defendant.

          All copyrights are like that. Independent creation is non-infringing even if two works are perfectly identical. However, the more similar two works are, where the junior author could have potentially copied, and the less of an excuse there is driven by outside considerations (such as compatibility with a particular OS and file type, say) or non-copyrightable elements (like mere ideas), the more suspicious a court will be.

          Also note that architectural works do not include “individual standard features” or things that aren’t buildings, per the Copyright Act.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 7:10pm

    Abolish Copyright

    And build a better world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 16 Oct 2017 @ 7:13pm

    Supplier should be able to make a mint from providing slightly different shades and textures of things to each and every customer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2017 @ 11:55pm

    This issue is fairly amusing to me as I live in a Victorian terrace which is protected under a conservation area status.

    That means you have to keep the houses looking almost identical, for all intents and purposes, so that the street remains uniform and the original Victorian look and feel is preserved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 17 Oct 2017 @ 12:54am

    Finally I get the poop emoji.

    The creators of the poop emoji now can sue dog owners leaving dog crap on the sidewalk not for littering (which gives few measly dollars) but for copyright infringement, a capital crime in the U.S. with ten thousands of dollars for every infringement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 17 Oct 2017 @ 1:08am

    Similar case: Stuttgart railway station

    Deutsche Bahn wanted to tear down parts of Stuttgart Railway station, to refurbish the whole area around it. The building had been opened in 1922, the architect Paul Bonatz died in 1956.

    One the heir asked for a court injunction, since tearing down part of the building would infringe his (inherited) copyright, as the overall impression of the protected building would change.

    The court turned him down on the grounds that three quarters of the copyright protection period had lapsed already, and there was a strong public interest (make that government interest, large parts of the public actually wanted to keep the original building).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 17 Oct 2017 @ 1:38am

      Re: Similar case: Stuttgart railway station

      One the heir asked for a court injunction, since tearing down part of the building would infringe his (inherited) copyright, as the overall impression of the protected building would change.

      That's rubbish in my opinion. The artist has been paid for the physical copy in place. What the owner does with it is his business. Tearing it down would seem perfectly in order. Now reusing design elements for a rebuilding: there it gets tricky. But as long as the retained design elements are physically kept (and not rebuild with new materials), this should still be fine.

      But then that we even need to split those kind of multimillion dollar hairs is insane.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 10:34am

      Re: Similar case: Stuttgart railway station

      Another case of a government not wanting to live by it's own laws when it finds them inconvenient.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2017 @ 9:50am

    This is bad news for HOA's...no longer can they force homes to look similar because copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Devon T, 22 Oct 2017 @ 7:36pm

    You guys are missing the point

    This house was built by an architect. Who was paid for the original design. In America, it is totally illegal to copy a house, even without the plans, because it's property of the original owner.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer
Anonymous number for texting and calling from Hushed. $25 lifetime membership, use code TECHDIRT25
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.