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Copyfight! Akar Studios Sues Client, Retailer Foreign Exchange

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Let us preface this one by stating the obvious: we're not lawyers. (Although we do love a good lawyer joke). But the nuances of intellectual property law are murky and increasingly contentious, and we're pretty sure buildings cannot be copyrighted, although blueprints and construction drawings can. Santa Monica-based Akar Studios is suing a former client, an LA-based retailer called Foreign Exchange for copyright infringment. According to Akar's claim, the company provided a "general design scheme, architectural designs and construction drawings" for three of Foreign Exchange's stores, but "retained ownership of all copyrights in the works" - in a written agreement. Akar says after the three stores were built, it provided proposals for two more Foreign Exchange stores, that were later rejected. In the lawsuit filing, Akar alleges that FE handed Akar's architectural drawings to Culver City-based Shubin+Donaldson Architects and Lee+Kim Design, "to modify the designs and prepare derivative works for the two additional stores." Akar claims FE “affixed their logos and/or stamps to Akar’s Architectural Works and Technical Drawings, passing such documents as their own work, despite knowledge that such documents were prepared by Akar,” so it seems the other architecture firms were probably unaware they were given the work of a rival firm. Ok, so it seems Akar was duped. Here's where it gets tricky. Akar also alleges that after the work was copied, FE asked Akar to sign a "'Lien Release' in exchange for final payment. But buried in the release – unbeknownst to Akar – was a transfer of intellectual property rights." Read the fine print, people. Any lawyers want to weigh in? Or architects? Is this sort of thing more common than we think?
Architecture Design Firm Files Copyright Infringement And Lanham Act Claims Against Foreign Exchange Clothing Stores [IP Trademark Attorney Blog]