A lawsuit filed by Thomas Shine ARC ’00 alleging that the plans for a structure to replace the World Trade Center towers were a copy of his student works will proceed, even though the current design for the structure has been revamped.
In an Aug. 10 ruling, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York denied a motion filed by Freedom Tower architect David Childs ’63 ARC ’67 and his firm requesting that the lawsuit filed by Shine last November be dismissed. U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey held that the substantial similarity between the two designs is debatable. Despite the reworking of the tower design, the suit will proceed as planned because Childs’ original design “remains in the public domain,” the court said.
But Childs’ new design has provoked similar accusations — Yale School of Architecture Dean Robert Stern told the New York Times in August that Childs’ most recent Freedom Tower plan is similar to a design he created in 2000 for the Pennsylvania Plaza project in Philadelphia.
When contacted yesterday, Stern declined to comment further on the issue and a spokesperson for his architectural firm said Stern would not be pursuing a lawsuit against Childs.
A jury will decide in coming months whether Childs copied “Olympic Tower”– one of the works Shine designed as a student at Yale — in his original Freedom Tower design. But Mukasey dismissed Shine’s claims that Childs’ initial designs were copied from another one of his student works, “Shine 99.”
Shine’s attorney, Andrew Baum, said he was happy with the court’s ruling.
“We’re pleased that the court has found that this is a serious case and that a jury will now be able to decide the issue,” Baum said. “It’s not a victory in the sense that Mr. Shine gets anything, but a victory in the sense that if it had gone the other way we couldn’t have gone to court.”
But Elizabeth Kubany, a spokeswoman for Childs’s firm, said she is confident that the jury will dismiss Shine’s claims during the trial.
“We have felt from the beginning that Mr. Shine’s claims are without merit,” Kubany wrote in an e-mail. “Now, the judge has dismissed one of Mr. Shine’s two claims, and we continue to believe that Mr. Shine’s remaining claim is not valid.”
In a memorandum, Childs and his firm also accused Shine of deliberately manipulating photographs submitted as exhibits during the course of the lawsuit “in order to create an impression of superficial similarity where none exists.” Shine changed the images’ scaling, mirrored several of the images and used images of the Olympic Tower for which he did not have a copyright, the memorandum said. But Baum said he does not expect this to be a relevant issue in the case because the images were only reversed, not doctored and when he found out about the claims he withdrew the images from the exhibits.
It is fairly common for judges to deny defendants’ requests for dismissal in copyright cases, said Robert Brauneis, the co-director of George Washington Law School’s Dean Dinwoodey Center for Intellectual Property Studies in an interview last spring.
“Not many judges would say, ‘I’m not even going to give this issue to the jury, because no reasonable jury could find it’s substantially similar,'” Brauneis said.
The next stage in the case will be what is called the discovery stage, a six- to nine-month process during which lawyers from both sides will exchange relevant documents, Baum said. A trial will be scheduled after the discovery period but it is unclear when it will take place, Baum said.