Couple Sues Neighbors for Copycat House

A Toronto couple has settled a three-year-long legal battle against their neighbors, whom they accused of copying the design of their multimillion-dollar home.

Jason and Jodi Chapnik allege that a house near them looks “strikingly similar” to theirs. They argued in court that the home is using the same shade of blue and matching grey stonework. They’ve accused the neighbors of decreasing the value of their home and taking away its uniqueness by copying its design.

The couple sued their neighbors—one of whom is a builder—as well as the neighbor’s architect brother-in-law for copyright infringement in federal court. They also sued the real estate agent whom they accuse of profiting from the home’s recent sale. The Chapniks raised the question on whether a home’s design can be protected by copyright laws.

But after a legal battle of more than three years, the parties recently agreed to settle out of court. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

Barbara Ann Kirshenblatt, the neighbor who was sued, denies copying the look of the house. She says the house was inspired by Tudor stone cottages. She supplied several examples to the court of similarly styled homes. Kirshenblatt also says the home has different shapes, layouts, and configurations and isn’t a copycat.

“The application of a single color, such as blue, to windows, doors, and stonework, and the application of ‘Tudor’ style stonework to a facade has been common to the trade for centuries, and is not protectable by copyright,” Kirshenblatt told the Toronto Star.

The Chapniks purchased the house for $3.8 million in 2006. The house was originally built in 1935. They renovated the home one year after purchasing it.

The nearby neighbor’s house was on the market in May 2013 for $1.6 million. Kirshenblatt began renovations on the home shortly after purchasing it. Her husband’s construction company, RKS Building Group, and his brother’s architectural firm, Kirkor Architects and Planners, did the renovations. The renovated home sold in February 2015 for $3.6 million.

Both couples say they settled out of court recently after the costs associated with going to trial became too high.

“A significant amount of time and money had to be expended in order to protect our copyright,” the Chapniks’ lawyer told the Toronto Star. They said the settlement “will allow us peace of mind to know that this should not happen again in the future.”

Copyright cases between homeowners is uncommon, Carys Craig, an associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, told the Toronto Star.

“We often don’t think about architecture when we think about copyright, and we often don’t think about buildings as works of art,” Craig says. “So it might seem like a particularly strange claim to the average person who assumes that, if you own a home, you can design it as you want.”

Source: “This Forest Hill Couple Sued Their Neighbours for $2.5 Million Over a House They Claim was Renovated to Look Like Theirs,” Toronto Star (Oct. 5, 2017)