Couple Sues Over Copycat Home Design


A Toronto couple has just ended a yearslong lawsuit with a neighbor, after accusing them of copying the design of their house.

Jason and Jodi Chapnik filed the suit in 2014, saying their neighbors remodeled a property less than 1,000 yards away to look “strikingly similar” to their home, which they say decreased their home’s value.

The Chapniks filed against neighbor Barbara Ann Kirshenblatt, her husband and his construction firm KS Building Group, Kirkor Architects and Planners, subcontractor King Masonry Yard Ltd., Forest Hill Real Estate, real estate agent Julie Gofman and other tradespeople.

The (plaintiffs’) multi-million dollar Tudor-style home features a brown front door with an arched lintel, gray masonry, raised stonework and blue-painted wood-framed windows and was renovated in 2007.

The Chapniks argued that within the neighborhood, their home was very distinct, and Jason Chapnik even recalled a time when contractors from the other property came to his home and spoke to him about the design.

Kirshenblatt denied copying the look of the home, saying that the application of a certain color or the use of Tudor-style stonework has been done for centuries, and that it can’t be protected by copyright.

“The Defendants’ conduct constitutes willful, high-handed and deliberate infringement of the Plaintiff’s copyright in the Strathearn Design and should attract the Court’s condemnation through a substantial award of aggravated, exemplary or punitive damages,” the Chapniks’ claim said.

The Chapniks were originally 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.

The parties ended up settling out of court for an undisclosed amount on Sept. 21.

Though copyright lawsuits do pop up with regard to architecture, they usually aren’t the work of homeowners, notes Carys Craig, an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School who specializes in intellectual property law and policy.

“We often don’t think about architecture when we think about copyright, and we often don’t think about buildings as works of art,” Craig said. “So it might seem like a particularly strange claim to the average person who assumes that if you own a home you can design it as you want.”

Editor's note: This story was one of our most popular of 2017 and appeared in our Readers' Choice issue on Dec. 29.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Color + Design; Color + Design; Design; Design build; North America

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