A West Yorkshire-based architecture practice has settled out of court with a renowned furniture designer following allegations that it copied one of the firm's designs.
In a case that has led to calls for the RIBA to ramp up its guidance to architects on the issue of copyright, Saltaire-based Rance Booth & Smith (RBS) settled with Mark Wilkinson Furniture (MWF) after MWF claimed its Mai range of kitchen suites had been copied during the refurbishment of Blubberhouse Hall, Harrogate.
RBS was one of three parties that, between them, agreed to pay Wiltshire-based MWF £26,000 after being accused of breaching the firm's design rights.
Steven Hirst, the then boss of contractor Thirteen Twenty which carried out the refurbishment work, and the owners of Blubberhouse Hall - Mark Nelson and Jenny Garforth - were the other parties who chose to settle
early last month.
Following the deal, lobby group Anti Copying in Design (ACID) called on the RIBA to clarify guidelines to architects which it said were not clear enough on the issue of design rights.
ACID director Dids MacDonald said she had written to the RIBA because 'it currently appears that there are codes of conduct for architects to adhere to, but there are not many rules or guidelines'.
'It is important that people know there are lines that they shouldn't cross,' added MacDonald.
MacDonald also suggested that ACID and the RIBA should work together on what she saw as a common goal. She said: 'ACID has produced guidelines which concentrate on giving advice on how not to infringe the rights of originators - [I recommended] that these be adapted for use.'
But the RIBA, which said it was in the process of penning a reply to MacDonald, said its Code of Professional Conduct, the first principle of which is that 'its members shall act with honesty and at all times', has already addressed the matter.
A spokesman for the RIBA said: 'The code is not designed to duplicate the law - breach of copyright is a legal issue. The code is designed to address ethical issues pertaining to the profession that are not covered by UK law.'
Although RBS director Allan Booth refused to disclose how much his firm had paid to MWF, he said he was disappointed by the settlement and felt 'hard done by'. He also added that the situation had been 'much more complicated' than a simple case of plagiarism.
He said: 'This is a serious issue but it is very debatable as to when one is copying something and when one is
not. We all get influences from different sources.'
But MWF commercial director Gordon Munro, who instigated legal proceedings after stumbling across pictures of Blubberhouse Hall's new kitchen while leafing through
a copy of Yorkshire Life
, said: 'There was never any attempt to deny it was anything but a copy.'by Max Thompson