Who really owns the designs of a project?
Gavin Polone, a TV producer and director, says he should be able to finish building a home at 1975 Carla Ridge Road, after a design team with Culver City-based firm Studio Pali Fekete Architects (SPF:a) allegedly quit before the project was complete.
In 2014, Polone hired the architecture firm to design and construct a residence, office, and guest home on three adjoining lots, according to court papers.
The architecture firm allegedly withdrew from the project in May while engineering, permitting and demolition processes were already underway. Polone contends the agreement did not specify ownership or copyrights in the event that SPF terminates its services.
In June, Polone hired a replacement architect to finish the job. Then he filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging misconduct and negligence. That lawsuit is still pending.
SPF:a responded this month by accusing Polone of stealing its design by continuing with the project with another firm. They sent him a cease-and-desist letter, and threatened copyright infringement liability if work did not stop.
The original agreement between Polone and SPF:a stipulated the firm would complete the project for $745,000, plus construction supervision costs of $170,000, Polone said in court documents. He said he has since spent more than $728,000.
According to Polone, their agreement stated that “Design Ownership resides solely with [SPF],” but that ownership would be transferred to Polone “once the services are completed and paid for.” It specified that Polone may terminate the architecture firm’s services, “but that does not allow [Mr. Polone] to utilize the design without prior written consent with an option to purchase a license for such usage.”
Polone claims that SPF:a’s copyright infringement complaint is an “extortionate ploy.” This month he filed a federal lawsuit against SPF:a asking judge to decide on ownership and copyright infringement.
The lawsuit alleges SPF:a is using threats of copyright liability to prevent other architects from “fixing the damage and continuing the project,” unless they are paid. It also describes that on Oct. 12, Polone wrote a check for more than $38,000 to SPF:a in hopes they would withdraw their copyright claims and “acknowledge Mr. Polone’s right to proceed with the project.”
SPF:a declined the offer, and demanded he also provide them with a complete release of his claims of negligence.
The architecture firm declined to comment on the dispute.