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Architect's Lawsuit over Freedom Tower Moves Forward

Judge Michael B. Mukasey of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled on August 10 that Massachusetts-based architect Thomas Shine could proceed with his lawsuit against architect David Childs, FAIA. The suit, originally filed in November 2004, alleges that Childs, a principal at Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM), copied a skyscraper design that Shine had developed while a Masters student at Yale Architecture School, for his original design for the World Trade Center Freedom Tower. Shine had presented the idea, a twisting tower with a faceted facade called “Olympic Tower,” to Childs in the fall of 1999.

In March SOM had filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that Childs had not copied Shine’s design, and that both Olympic Tower and an earlier design, called Shine 99, were unoriginal and ineligible for copyright protection.

In his ruling, Mukasey said that some “might find that the Freedom Tower's twisting shape and undulating diamond-shaped facade make it substantially similar to Olympic Tower, and therefore an improper appropriation of copyrighted artistic expression.”

Still, the Judge held out that "It is possible, even likely, that some ordinary observers might not find the two towers to be substantially similar because, as defendants note, there are differences between the Freedom Tower and Olympic Tower."

The Freedom Tower design was changed on June 29, but according to the court, “because defendants’ original design for the Freedom Tower remains in the public domain, Shine’s infringement claim stands.”

SOM spokesperson Elizabeth Kubany says that three of Shine’s tower images, thrown out of the case because they had been doctored, were “clearly an attempt at deception.” She calls the appearance in the suit of “Shine 99,” which was also thrown out by the judge, “another attempt by Shine to make a case where there is none.”

Shine says the three pictures were unintentionally switched, and that the Shine 99 project was a relatively insignificant part of his case. “We’re very pleased that the case is moving foward,” he says.

Sam Lubell



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