French interior designer Zoé d e Las Cases and her partner Benjamin Dewé have filed a lawsuit against Airbnb, claiming that the lodging website replicated their apartment décor in its headquarters office without giving them any credit.
This story began when Airbnb contacted the couple to ask if it could host a launch party for their Paris office in their apartment. The launch party was staged and apparently Airbnb was a huge fan of the design since one year later, a friend sent the couple a congratulations note when he saw pictures from Airbnb’s headquarters office that replicated their apartment design. This was news to the French couple who, remember, makes a living from interior design.
In addition to using the same wallpaper, pendant lamps, copycat appliances, furniture, etc., etc., etc., as the French apartment, Airbnb went so far as to recreate personal souvenirs that belonged to the couple and even a photo of de Las Cases’ grandmother! Take a look at the photos posted by New York Magazine.
The lawsuit claims that Airbnb’s actions hurt the de Las Cases design business and infringes on its ownership of a unique personal style. “They are branding their company with our life,” Dewé told BuzzFeed.
It turns out that the design couples’ Paris apartment isn’t the only part of Airbnb’s office that resembles someone’s home. Conference rooms and private offices in the San Francisco headquarters office are designed to look like popular Airbnb rental apartments found around the world. What we don’t know is whether the apartment designs from other Airbnb locations were also a reflection of an interior designer’s own brand.
Since U.S. copyright law doesn’t protect a collection of objects placed together, the couple moved forward with their lawsuit in the hope that French laws would rule in their favor, since in France, any original work can be protected by copyright. Buzzfeed quoted a French lawyer who, citing the French concept of “parasitisme économique” (similar to trade dress), said: “When a firm conducts itself like a ‘parasit’ (it means that it steals commercial ideas from others), it has to pay damages to the first person who had commercialized products based on the stolen ideas.”
What’s your view — is this a case of “creative reuse” or an unauthorized brand infringement?