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SHINE v. CHILDS

August 4, 2005.

THOMAS SHINE, Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID M. CHILDS and SKIDMORE OWINGS & MERRILL, LLP, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MICHAEL MUKASEY, Chief Judge, District

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Thomas Shine sues David M. Childs and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP (SOM) for copyright infringement under the United States Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 101 — § 1332 (2000). Shine alleges that he created designs for an original skyscraper which Childs saw and later copied in the first design plan for the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center (WTC) site. Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint, or alternatively for summary judgment. For the reasons explained below, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part.

  I.

  The facts viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Higgins v. Metro-North R.R. Co., 318 F.3d 422, 424 (2d Cir. 2003), are as follows. In fall 1999, Shine was a student in the Masters of Architecture Program at the Yale School of Architecture. As part of the required curriculum in his program, he took a studio class on skyscrapers taught by renowned architect Cesar Pelli. (Compl. ¶ 8) The object of this studio was to create a design proposal for a monumental skyscraper that would be built on West 32nd Street in Manhattan and used by the media during the 2012 Olympic Games; the building was to be adjacent to the proposed West Side stadium. See id.; Shine Decl. ¶ 5.

  During the first half of October 1999, Shine developed a preliminary model for his design, which he refers to as "Shine '99" for the purposes of this litigation.*fn1 Plaintiff describes Shine '99 as a tower that tapers as it rises, with "two straight, parallel, roughly triangular sides, connected by two twisting facades, resulting in a tower whose top [is] in the shape of a parallelogram." (Compl. ¶ 9) See id. Ex. A, pp. 1-4 (photographs of Shine '99); see also App. One.

  By the end of the fall 1999 semester, Shine had developed a more sophisticated model of his design, entitled "Olympic Tower." Shine describes this structure as "a twisting tower with a symmetrical diagonal column grid, expressed on the exterior of the building, that follows the twisting surface created by the floor plates' geometry." (Id. ¶ 10) According to Shine, the column grid he designed gives rise to "an elongated diamond pattern, supporting a textured curtain wall with diamonds interlocking and protruding to create a crenelated appearance." (Id.) See id. Ex. B, pp. 1-9 (photographs of various models and sketches of Olympic Tower and its design elements); see also App. Two.

  On or about December 9, 1999, Shine presented his designs for Olympic Tower to a jury of experts invited by the Yale School of Architecture to evaluate and critique its students' work. During a 30-minute presentation to the panel, Shine explained his tower's structural design, and displayed different structural and design models (including Shine '99), renderings, floor plans, elevations, sections, a site plan, and a photomontage giving a visual impression of the tower's exterior. (Shine Decl. ¶¶ 7-9) Defendant Childs was on the panel, and he praised Olympic Tower during the presentation, as did the other luminaries*fn2 evaluating Shine's work. When the review was completed, Shine was applauded by the jury and other visitors, which, according to Shine, is "highly unusual" at a student's final review. (Shine Decl. ¶ 10) After the presentation, Childs approached Shine, complimented Shine's color pencil rendering of Olympic Tower, and invited Shine to visit after his graduation. See Compl. ¶ 11; Shine Decl. ¶ 10.

  Childs' favorable reaction to Olympic Tower was also documented in Retrospecta, an annual alumni magazine*fn3 published by the Yale School of Architecture featuring selected works by the school's current students. The 1999-2000 edition of Retrospecta featured a large composite photographic rendering of Olympic Tower set against an imaginary New York sunset, in addition to smaller inset photographs of two of Shine's models of the tower. Favorable comments from the panel members were printed next to the photographic rendering, including the following compliment from Childs: "It is a very beautiful shape. You took the skin and developed it around the form — great!" (Compl. Ex. C) Shine does not allege that he had any contact with Childs after the December 1999 panel evaluation. However, he does claim that Childs' design for the Freedom Tower, unveiled four years later, infringed Shine '99 and Olympic Tower.

  Childs did not begin work on the Freedom Tower until summer 2003. In order to choose the best possible design for the rebuilt WTC, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey held an architectural competition in 2002 and 2003, in search of a master WTC site plan. In February 2003, Studio Daniel Libeskind's plan entitled "Memory Foundations" was selected as the winning design. See Suzanne Stephens, Imagining Ground Zero: Official and Unofficial Proposals for the World Trade Center Site 11, 28-29 (2004). In summer 2003, WTC developer Larry Silverstein asked Childs, who is a Consulting Design Partner at SOM, to begin working as design architect and project manager for the tallest building at the proposed new WTC site as conceptualized by Libeskind — the building that later would be called the Freedom Tower. Id. at 29. Libeskind was to serve as collaborating architect during the initial concept and schematic design phases. Id. at 32. In spite of what was described as a "difficult marriage" between Childs and Libeskind, see id. at 29, a design for the Freedom Tower was completed within six months, and was presented to the public at a press conference at Federal Hall in lower Manhattan on December 19, 2003. See id. at 32; Compl. ¶ 17; Durschinger Aff. ¶ 34. At this presentation, SOM and Childs displayed six large computer-generated images of the Freedom Tower, see Stephens at 34-35; two scale models of the Tower, see Durschinger Aff. Exs. N, O, and P; and a computer slide show detailing the Tower's design principles, see Durschinger Aff. Ex. Q. They also distributed a press packet containing six images of the proposed Tower, see id. Ex. R; see also App. Three.

  As described by Shine, this version of the Freedom Tower "tapers as it rises and has two straight, parallel, roughly triangular facades on opposite sides, with two twisting facades joining them." (Compl. ¶ 18) Shine alleges that this design is substantially similar to the form and shape of Shine '99, and that it incorporates a structural grid identical to the grid in Olympic Tower, as well as a facade design that is "strikingly similar" to the one in Olympic Tower. (Id.) Apparently, others at the Yale School of Architecture noticed the similarity between the Freedom Tower and Shine's design: According to plaintiff's expert, Yale Professor James Axley, several days after Childs unveiled the design for the Freedom Tower, one of Shine's original models for Olympic Tower "was retrieved from archival storage and placed on the desk of the Dean of the School of Architecture." (Axley Decl. ¶ 7)

  Shine registered Olympic Tower as an architectural work with the U.S. Copyright Office on March 30, 2004 (Compl. Ex. E), and did the same for Shine '99 on June 24, 2004 (id. Ex. D). He filed the Complaint in this action on November 8, 2004, claiming that defendants copied his designs without his permission or authorization, and stating that defendants distributed and claimed credit for his designs "willfully and with conscious disregard" for his rights in his copyrighted works. (Id. ¶ 22)

  Shine requests an injunction to prevent further infringement by defendants, as well as actual damages and defendants' profits realized by their infringement. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28) Defendants move to dismiss the Complaint, or alternatively for summary judgment, claiming that Shine's works are not original and not worthy of protection, and further arguing that there is no substantial similarity between either work and the Freedom Tower.

  It should be noted that in June 2005, after law enforcement authorities, among others, objected to the Freedom Tower's original design,*fn4 Childs, SOM, and Libeskind unveiled a substantially redesigned version of the Tower. The alleged infringing design apparently has been scrapped and is unlikely to be constructed. The new version has, at least to this court's untrained eye, little similarity to either of Shine's copyrighted works, and the court assumes that Shine makes no claim that it infringes his works. Because the alleged infringing design may never be constructed, Shine's actual damages in this action may be reduced, and he may be unable to show the need for an injunction. But because defendants' original design for the Freedom Tower remains in the public domain, Shine's infringement claim stands.

  Defendants have moved under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the Complaint, or alternatively, for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Because plaintiff has treated the motion as one for summary judgment, see Pl. Br. at 11, and because both parties have submitted materials outside the Complaint that the court has found helpful, the court will consider those materials, and apply summary judgment standards. In assessing whether a genuine issue of material fact remains to be tried, the court will view the ...


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