Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Pox Upon Both Your Houses

Similar treatment. Totally different plan.
I recently came across this Toronto Star story about two couples in Canada who were involved in a lawsuit regarding the appearance of their houses. Apparently the owners of a 1935-era Tudor Revival home—which they had spent a lot of money to renovate in 2006—had many of its features “copied” by owners of a newly-built neighboring house nearby. The owners of the older home sued the couple who built the new house for $1.5 million in damages, including $20,000 in copyright damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
The owners of the existing home claimed that the neighbors copied a number of features from their home, including similar gray stonework, the same shade of blue on the windows, similar treatments in the gables and other unique design cues that made their house “one of the most well-known and admired houses in the neighborhood” - according to the lawsuit.

LEFT: Couldn't spring for a proper chimney pot, eh?
Of course, I am aware that house designs and plans can be copyrighted, although it is seldom an issue for the courts; it’s not easy to prove infringement, since even the average builder would not normally think to copy a plan in such careful and exact detail to leave no doubt as to its origin.

In this case, the plans of the houses are totally different—only some of the architectural details were copied, and I don’t think using a particular stone type or paint color constitutes a violation of copyright. If you look at some of the side-by-side photos in the article, you’ll see some clear similarities, but you’ll also see clear differences as well.

Both couples claimed to have been inspired by Tudor architecture, and that is clear, though the results vary in their quality. A stepped stone or brick chimney is a common Tudor feature—you can’t copyright it.  Arched doorways and stone construction are not uncommon either. The owners of the older home claim that the copycat house “devalued” their own, but I don’t buy it.

Shape is all these two have in common.
When we built our house, I was the first in the neighborhood to use “scalloped” shingle-style siding over a prominent portion of our house. Shortly thereafter, another house built around the corner included that feature over its center gable, as did another home several doors down the street that was remodeled a few years ago. Did they copy what we did? I don’t know—but even if they did, I would take it as a compliment. I think that would have been a more mature and appropriate response here.

As for the builders of the new house, I really can’t imagine why anyone with a brain would slavishly copy features of a nearby house like paint color, adding weatherboarding to a gable, etc. without looking at other options. If you’re a Tudor-lover, there are too many sources of inspiration out there to have to resort to something so craven. Seems like a lack of imagination. Or just laziness.

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