The Dubai Frame. Photo: the New York Times

Architect of New Dubai Landmark Sues Municipality for Copyright Infringement

Mexican-born architect Fernando Donis has filed a lawsuit against the municipality of Dubai for copyright infringement after it selected him as the winner of an international design competition and then proceeded to erect the building he designed without crediting him for his work or involving him in the construction process, Peter S. Goodman of the New York Times reports.

Scheduled to open this year, the Dubai Frame consists of two towers connected by an observation deck. Donis’s design was chosen nearly a decade ago from a pool of more than nine hundred proposals. While the architect received the competition’s $100,000 prize, Dubai’s municipality has since tried to pressure him to give up his intellectual property rights for the project.

“It’s shocking,” Donis said. “‘The Frame’ is mine, and they don’t want to grant that it is mine. The infringement doesn’t just victimize me. They have taken something from all architects—the protection of our ideas.”

The 2008 contest called for a tall and iconic structure that would contribute “to the face of Dubai” and draw at least two million tourists annually. After Donis was announced as the winner, he was flown to Dubai, where he was honored at a dinner at the Raffles Hotel and was allowed to present his project to the prince.

According to the competition’s rules, the architect was entitled to the copyright of the design, which would only be used by the city after a contract was drawn up and signed. While the municipality was allegedly writing up the document, it tried to force Donis to transfer the copyright by threatening to hire a local firm and claiming he didn’t have the proper licenses to work on the project.

In May 2011, Roxy Binno, an expert in the urban design and planning department of the Dubai municipality, wrote Donis an e-mail stating that the competition’s copyright was only for the initial concept and that the municipality “owns the project now” and would begin construction.

Edward Klaris, a New York–based lawyer who represents Donis, said, “This is an egregious infringement of international copyright and a sad case of sovereign bullying that deserves to be corrected.” After informing the municipality that Donis would take legal action, the architect was invited to Dubai and was told that a new contract would be made. However, the document he received declared that Donis would only serve as an adviser for the project and was forbidden from promoting the work as his own.

After reaching out to ThyssenKrupp Elevator—the German-based company that supervised the competition—for help, Donis was informed that the company was not going to interfere and that the situation was a “commercial disagreement.” Donis responded by naming the company as a codefendant on the lawsuit.