The architect and the right of integrity of his work – Jean Nouvel and the Parisian concert hall

by Axel P Ringelhann

This week, on Friday 13 February 2015, a rather prominent case concerning moral rights was heard at the TGI de Paris (‘Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris’, Grand Instance Court of Paris). The parties involved are Jean Nouvel, a well-known French architect, and the Philharmonie de Paris.

In 2007, Jean Nouvel was awarded the contract to design a new concert hall for the Philharmonie de Paris . On 14 January 2015, as the prestigious project was already running two years late and three times over its original budget, the gigantic concert hall was inaugurated in the presence of none other than the French President himself, however in the absence of the architect (see here). Jean Nouvel used his absence at the inauguration ceremony as an expression of his discontent as regards the changes made to his work without his consent and the fact that the building was opened too soon – at that time there were still some parts of the building under construction. Hence, in an interview with the established French newspaper Le Monde he announced to invoke his moral rights at court.

Indeed, in the meantime the star-architect sought action for infringement of his moral right over his the respect of his work. He requests that the court order the defendant to recover the modifications of his initial drawings and plans. In total, the architect denotes 26 instances of non-conformity with his original sketches. The facade, parapets, foyers and a promenade are particularly concerned. For the time being, the plaintiff claims that his name and image not be used in connection with the concert hall.

It is now up to the court to decide on infringement of the architect’s right of integrity. Article L121‑1 of the French Intellectual Property Code (‘Code de la propiété intellectuelle’) provides that the author has a personal right over the respect of his work. Article 6bis of the Berne Convention also provides authors the right ‘to object to any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to… [the] work, which would be prejudicial to his honor or reputation.’ French law has a larger scope than article 6bis, as the changes made to the work do not have to be proven prejudicial to the honor or reputation of the author (see to this extent the 1709blog in yet another recent French case). As for functional buildings, the French judges established a two-tier test for modifications (see a recent judgment regarding this judge-made law). First, modifications are only justified if new needs (‘besoins nouveaux’) arise. And secondly, those changes must be indispensable (‘strictement nécessaires’) and must not be disproportionate as to the goal they aim to achieve. Given the fact that during the construction of the concert hall – which obviously is a functional building – the French state succumbed to the global financial crisis, one may wonder whether in these circumstances the modifications resulting of budget cuts might be justified as being necessary.

As regards the present proceedings, Le Monde reports that in the course of the hearing, Jean Nouvel mentioned that modern artists would not process every little thing themselves. However, he stressed that he remains the architect of his atelier’s works, given that every process would undergo his final check. The defendant qualified that statement as the architect’s concession of a lack of authorship for the building at issue. On 16 April 2015 the court will hand down judgment, we will then have clarification as to the authorship for the new Parisian concert hall and the alleged infringements of the moral rights of the architect.

Axel P Ringelhann, Assistant Editor
Queen Mary Journal of Intellectual Property