A Tale of Two Buildings: A Case of Architectural Copyright Infringement in China

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by Guest Blogger Nadia Kashem

[Editor’s Note: Nadia Kashem is a first-year law student at Fordham University School of Law and former architectural student of The Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York].

“Imitation is the sincerest of flattery,” Charles Caleb Colton once wrote.[1] For Zaha Hadid, this flattery came in the form of the Meiquan 22nd Century building in Chongqing, China.[2]

The artist at the center of the following 2012 legal controversy is not conventional. Hadid is a sculptor of sorts, but she does not build out of clay. The parametric sculptures she designs are intricate glass, concrete, and steel enclosures that are conceived on her computer and then brought to life in major cities around the world. In 2004, she became the first female architect to receive the Pritzker Prize, the most-coveted award in architecture. Despite her international prominence, however, one of her recent buildings in China was not immune to piracy.

Built in the city of Chongqing by a developer company called Chongqing Meiquan, the Meiquan 22nd Century structure rivaled Hadid’s Wangjing SOHO project for Beijing—a series of mixed-use towers, with the highest at forty-three stories. While Hadid’s website describes her architectural vision as “three interweaving mountains that fuse building and landscape to bring together the surrounding community,”[3] Chongqing Meiquan, at a press conference, described its own project as “cobblestones by the bank of the Yangtze River.” [4]

A rendering of the Wangjing SOHO by Zaha Hadid Architects
A rendering of the Wangjing SOHO by Zaha Hadid Architects

(Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/property-and-architecture/1974/pirated-zaha-hadid-building-under-construction-in-china.html )

A rendering of the Meiquan 22nd Century via Global Times
A rendering of the Meiquan 22nd Century via Global Times

(Source: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/754764.shtml )

Both projects are designed around a park-like complex cut by a series of paths. Each contains smooth curvilinear towers sitting asymmetrically on the site, facing different views of the respective cities. With the exception of the Wangjing SOHO having three towers compared to the Meiquan 22nd Century’s two, the projects look eerily similar. Although counterfeit merchandise[5] and forged artwork[6] are already abundant in China, it is especially eerie to know that a building—something to which an architect can dedicate years of her life,—can simply be copy-and-pasted elsewhere, emphasizes a substantial challenge that artists can face in the computer age.

Architecture students learn that a building’s shape is uniquely developed through consideration for a series of factors, such as program distribution, solar studies for natural light, pedestrian flow patterns, vantage points, and circulation, among others. Therefore, no two buildings in the world can ever be exactly alike without someone recycling another’s design. An innovative approach would be to deconstruct the ideas that went into the admired design and reassemble the “sculpture” using those factors, but configured to the new site. Then the architectural concept would be the same, but the characteristics of the two buildings would be unique to their own site conditions. Here, the buildings were virtually identical, save for a few tweaks. That just does not happen out of sheer coincidence.

An issue, however, might emerge if one were to use this reasoning to justify copying another architect’s work. If the concepts are different despite the physical resemblance, has there really been an infringement?

Satoshi Ohashi, the project director at Zaha Hadid Architects, certainly thought so. He was unconvinced by Chongqing Meiquan’s insistence that the concept behind the Meiquan 22nd Century was unique. Instead, he suggested that renderings or technical drawings—based off of a 3D computer model of the Wangjing SOHO—might have been electronically accessed by the Chinese developer, and then used to design the copycat building.[8]

Should Zaha Hadid Architects  have decided to sue in China, the London-based architecture firm would have likely prevailed on a copyright infringement claim against the pirate developer, because of a similar precedent that had been decided only four years prior. In Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG v. Beijing Techart Auto Sales Co., Ltd.[9] the German automobile manufacturer Porsche, which was the original copyright owner, sued the defendant for imitating its building design. [10] The Beijing Municipal High People’s Court held that architectural works fall under China’s Copyright Law and that construction can be considered a method of copyright infringement, for which there is civil liability. However, the court also held that the remedy for such cases would be to order the infringing party to reconstruct the building rather than to demolish it, for economic efficiency. Thus, it is only a limited victory for wronged parties.

In the matter of the Meiquan 22nd Century structure, after representatives from the rival companies held a press conference in May 2012, SOHO China, the developer of Hadid’s project, stated that it intended to file a lawsuit, alleging copyright infringement.[11] Hadid’s lawyer also requested the developer to cease construction and demanded compensation.[12] At the very least, a demand was made to change the façade of the Meiquan 22nd Century. However, Zaha Hadid Architects was under pressure to get the Wangjing SOHO completed before the other company, meaning that litigation would have been yet another obstacle when time was already limited. Perhaps this is why no case ever came to court and the media attention given to the controversy eventually dissipated after the completion of the Wangjing SOHO in 2014.[13] The Meiquan 22nd Century is still under construction.

“Never meant to copy, only want to surpass.” This is the new slogan Chongqing Meiquan made on its Sina Weibo microblog at the time in response to this controversy.[14] Chinese IP law is certainly evolving to protect architects’ rights, but perhaps it should implement stricter punitive measures, such as revoking the licenses of developers and architects who seek to similarly “surpass” others’ designs. Many foreign architectural firms, like Hadid’s, have contributed to the country’s building boom, and many more can be expected to do so in the years to come.

[1] C. C. Colton,  Lacon: Or Many Things In  Few Words; Addressed To Those Who Think 114 (8th ed. 1824).

[2] Marcus Fairs, Zaha Hadid Building Pirated in China, Dezeen Mag. (Jan. 2, 2013), http://www.dezeen.com/2013/01/02/zaha-hadid-building-pirated-in-china.

[3] ZAHA HADID ARCHITECTS, http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/wangjing-soho (last visited Oct. 18, 2015).

[4] Jessie Chen, Twin Buildings Appeared in Beijing and Chongqing, CHINA IP MAG. (Sept. 6, 2012), http://www.chinaipmagazine.com/en/journal-show.asp?id=859.

[5] Paul Toscano, 10 Business Fakes Made in China, CNBC (Aug. 2, 2011), http://www.cnbc.com/2011/08/02/10-Business-Fakes-Made-in-China.html?slide=1.

[6] Nicola Davison, Chinese Librarian Replaced 140 Masters Paintings with Works He Painted Himself, Telegraph (Jul. 21, 2015), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11753020/Chinese-librarian-replaced-140-masters-paintings-with-works-he-painted-himself.html.

[7] Paul Crowthew, Phenomenologies Of Art and Vision: A Post-Analytic Turn 31 (1st ed. 2013).

[8] Kevin Holden Platt, Zaha Hadid vs. the Pirates: Copycat Architects in China Take Aim at the Stars, Der Spiegel (Dec. 28, 2012), http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/pirated-copy-of-design-by-star-architect-hadid-being-built-in-china-a-874390.html.

[9] Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG v. Beijing Techart Auto Sales Co., Ltd., Beijing Mun. High People’s Ct., CLI.C.874263 (2008).

[10] Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG v. Beijing Techart Auto Sales Co., Ltd., (Beijing Mun. High People’s Ct. 2008), CLI.C.874263(EN) (Lawinfochina).

[11] Jessie Chen, Twin Buildings Appeared in Beijing and Chongqing, CHINA IP MAG. (Sept. 6, 2012), http://www.chinaipmagazine.com/en/journal-show.asp?id=859.

[12] Xing Yihang, Copying Architecture, CHINA RADIO INT’L. (Jan. 14, 2013, 8:35:47 PM), http://english.cri.cn/6909/2013/01/14/2724s743500.htm.

[13] ZAHA HADID ARCHITECTS, http://www.zaha-hadid.com/architecture/wangjing-soho (last visited Oct. 18, 2015).

[14] Jessie Chen, Twin Buildings Appeared in Beijing and Chongqing, CHINA IP MAG. (Sept. 6, 2012), http://www.chinaipmagazine.com/en/journal-show.asp?id=859.


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By Laura Zaharia

We recently started a new academic year—a new beginning, a chance to start out fresh. As I thought about fresh starts in the art community for my very first blog post, the Whitney Museum of American Art immediately came to my mind. The museum opened the doors to its new home in the Meatpacking District after moving from its original location on the Upper East Side three months ago. What I remember most about the opening buzz is how eager the fashion community was to welcome the museum into the neighborhood; Bloomingdale’s even celebrated the opening with window displays and special-edition shopping bags. Max Mara took the fête to another level and not only hosted the opening party, but also collaborated with Renzo Piano, the museum’s architect, to create a new bag inspired by the building’s structural design. Intrigued by the fashion community’s excitement, I added a trip to see the new building and its inaugural exhibit, “America Is Hard to See”, to my summer bucket list.


I finally had a chance to visit the museum last weekend, and I now understand why the architecture, along with the art that it houses, inspired the creative endeavors mentioned previously. As I stepped into the freight elevator, I was amazed at how quickly I became impressed with the new museum, before I even had the chance to see any art. (I found further validation for my admiration when I discovered that First Lady Michelle Obama shared similar sentiments.) I was also intrigued by the little details throughout the building, like the lights of Félix González-Torres’s “Untitled (America)” (1994) in the stairwells. However, my favorite part of the new building was the outdoor terraces, which flaunt an impressive view of the New York City skyline. After about an hour of admiring the building’s design, I finally switched my audio guide on and walked through the inaugural exhibit.


The museum’s fundamental task is working out what qualifies as “American art,” as Dana Miller, curator of the Whitney’s permanent collections, has indicated. Keeping this mission in mind, I thought that the idea for its inaugural exhibit, “America Is Hard to See”, was particularly fitting. The exhibit aims to reevaluate the history of American art. Curators have labeled the places of birth and death of various artists, inviting viewers to reflect on what it means to be American. Although I am by no means an art connoisseur, I thought the exhibit was very interesting and thought-provoking. The most fascinating aspect of the exhibit was how first generation Americans evoked American themes in their works of art.


“America Is Hard to See” will be on view until September 27th. I highly recommend planning a day trip and experiencing everything that the museum and its new neighborhood have to offer—make a reservation at Untitled for brunch, check out the exhibit, and enjoy the outdoor terraces before it gets too cold.

Art Law Community Mourns Loss of Two Luminaries

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By Guest Blogger Steffanie Keim

[Editor’s Note: Steffanie Keim is a Candidate for Doctor of Juridical Science ‘2018 at Fordham University School of Law, as well as FALS’ SJD Liason. Her research focus is restitution of Nazi-looted art.]

This summer the art law community mourns the loss of two of its luminaries within one week: Charles Arthur Goldstein and John Henry Merryman.

Charles Arthur Goldstein

The eminent real estate lawyer Charles Arthur Goldstein (born November 20, 1936), counsel to the Commission on Art Recovery and tireless advocate for the recovery and restitution of looted art, passed away on July 30, 2015.

Mr. Goldstein graduated from Columbia College and Harvard Law School, and began his distinguished legal career as a clerk for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  He was a well-connected real-estate specialist, structuring “major economic development projects – the Hotel Commodore, the South Street Seaport, the Portman hotel, the Archives Building and the St. George Hotel,” as well as being the personal attorney to New York Governor Hugh Carey.[1]

Reportedly introduced to Mr. Lauder on a Concorde flight in the early 1990s, Mr. Goldstein was hired by Mr. Lauder full time. [2] He was essential in the development and foundation of the Commission for Art Recovery[3] in 1997, for which he acted as president and counsel.

Mr. Goldstein embodied the mission of the Commission for Art Recovery and worked tirelessly for the restitution of art stolen, seized, confiscated, or otherwise displaced during the Nazi reign and Third Reich and its aftermath.

He assiduously persisted in tedious and drawn-out negotiations and litigation. He was also involved in high profile recoveries, such as Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer,” which is the subject of a motion pictured released in April 2015 – “Woman in Gold.”

Mr. Goldstein lectured and wrote extensively on issues related to Holocaust looted art and was a sought-out adviser and expert on restitution matters. [4]

John Henry Merryman

Professor John Henry Merryman (born February 24, 1920), ending a long and illustrious academic career, passed away on August 3, 2015.

Merryman was a distinguished international scholar and expert on comparative law, as well as art and cultural property law.  He also was known as the creator of the art law field.

Professor Merryman obtained a B.S. and M.S. in chemistry prior to switching to a legal career. He received a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame and an LLM, as well as JSD, from New York University School of Law.  Starting his teaching career at Santa Clara University, he was hired by Stanford Law School in 1953, where he taught a wide variety of courses throughout his for 62-year tenure – including teaching his recently developed course “Stolen Art” earlier this year.

He is the author of one of the classic texts on civil law, “The Civil Law Tradition,” and the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Comparative Law and the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Cavaliere ufficiale), as well as being a Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Research Professor.

Merryman created and taught “Law, Ethics and the Visual Arts” in the early 1970s.  He collaborated with history professor Albert E. Elsen, with whom he co-taught the class covering “tax, copyright, contracts, regulation, cultural property and ethics.”[5] This partnership lead to the publication of a foundational text in the art law field, bearing the same title.

Leading a full life outside of academia as well, Merryman was a professional musician who financed part of his education as founder and piano player in the dance band John Merryman and His Merry Men,[6] as well as being an avid art collector.  He also chaired the design committee for the new Stanford campus in the 1970s and was instrumental in securing art works as loans.  Merryman was honored by Daniel Shapiro and Agnes Gund who donated  “The Sieve of Erathosthenes” by Mark di Suvero in his name – “the work of a great artist to celebrate a great teacher and friend of art.”[7]

Merryman’s publications and awards are too numerous to list and his acclaim and esteem in the eyes of colleagues, scholars, students, and friends is unanimous.

Please visit https://law.stanford.edu/directory/john-henry-merryman/#slsnav-key-works for an overview of his key works and to catch a further glimpse at this giant of art law and humanity.

[1] See Frank Lynn, Charles Goldstein: Real-Estate Attorney to the Powerful, N.Y. Times, Mar. 20, 1982, http://www.nytimes.com/1982/03/20/nyregion/charles-goldstein-real-estate-attorney-to-the-powerful.html.

[2] See Sam Roberts, Charles Goldstein Lawyer Who Helped Find Looted Art, Dies at 78, N.Y. Times, Aug. 9, 2015, at A21, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/06/nyregion/charles-goldstein-dies-at-78-sought-return-of-art-looted-by-nazis.html?_r=0; see also Hannah Ghorashi, Charles Goldstein, Counsel Who Helped Recover $160 M. in Stolen Art, Dies at 78, ArtNews, Aug. 6, 2015,http://www.artnews.com/2015/08/06/charles-goldstein-counsel-behind-recovery-of-160-m-in-stolen-art-dies-at-78/.

[3] For more information about the Commission for Art Recovery, see About, Commission for Art Recovery, http://www.commartrecovery.org/about (last visited Sept. 7, 2015).

[4] See, e.g.,  Keynote Address, Charles A. Goldstein, Holocaust-Looted Art: An Overview, Commission for Art Recovery, http://www.commartrecovery.org/docs/COSMOS_CLUB_LECTURE_DEC2014.pdf.

[5] Sharon Driscoll, John Henry Merryman: Art Law Pioneer and Much-Loved Colleague, SLS News, Aug. 5, 2015,  https://blogs.law.stanford.edu/newsfeed/2015/08/05/john-henry-merryman-art-law-pioneer-and-much-loved-colleague/.

[6] See id.

[7] See id.

Discovering Art Law & the Opening of A New Academic Year

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Elle Davis, Vice President of FALS and second year law student, is a complete novice on the topic of art law. Her journey began her senior year as an undergraduate at University of Florida. Because she completed her required courses her junior year, she used her extra elective space for exploring art. She dove in head first with a studio drawing class—what she considered her most challenging class in college—followed by art history, music history, and a sketchbook course. By years end, she decided she needed to find a way to incorporate art into her plans for law school. Over the course of her year off before law school, her basic level “pre-legal-research” research led her to believe art law equaled intellectual property law. As a result, she decided, “New York is where I needed to go, and Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus was screaming my name.”

At Fordham, she discovered art law does in fact include intellectual property, but art law is truly more of a hand-stitched blanket that lays across the many fields of law, rather than a decorative pillow tossed on the bed of intellectual property. Elle partially credits FALS president, Morgan Manley, for introducing her to the many facets of art law: artists’ rights, IP protections, gallery or museum dispute resolution, provenance work, Nazi looted-art claims, regulating the last frontier (the art market is one of the last significant markets to be substantially unregulated), and so on. The opportunities for lawyers to get involved with the arts are abound, and growing!

Elle and FALS invite current Fordham law students and alumni to learn with Elle and get a taste of what art law can cover at FALS’ first event, The Nexus of Art and Law, to be held on September 10 at 12:30pm. A panel of three art law practitioners and Fordham law alumni will speak about their experience in the field. The panel will be moderated by the FALS faculty advisor Leila Amineddoleh, Professor of Art and Cultural Heritage Law at Fordham University School of Law and partner of Galluzzo & Amineddoleh LLP. The panelists are Christopher Robinson ’01, Partner, Davis, Wright & Tremaine LLP; Nicole Mazanitis ’10, Associate, Curtis, Mallet-Provost, Colt & Mosle LLP; and Jane Pakenham ’13, Associate General Counsel at the Calder Foundation.

Click here for the registration page. You must R.S.V.P. to attend as seats are limited. Lunch will be provided by Chipotle. This will also count for FALS’ first general body meeting, so it is a great opportunity to become a member of Fordham Art Law Society! The FALS Board looks forward to meeting you all, and please feel free to email  fordhamartlawsociety@gmail.com with any questions or, better yet, stop by FALS’ table at the Fordham law Student Activities Fair on Sept. 2nd!