France: Jean Nouvel sues the Philarmonie de Paris for breach of his moral rights

Whilst art and right are apparently two opposed universes, they are in reality deeply connected as artists usually care much about the recognition and respect of their works. Legally, moral rights currently are the most efficient tool to ensure the respect of their works. In France, these copyrights are based on property rights and moral rights. Whilst property rights are often assigned to editors, producers and other professionals, moral rights however belong to their author until her death and then to her heirs. According to article L. 121-1 al. 2 of the Intellectual Property Code, the moral right is perpetual, not subject to statutes of limitations and inalienable.

Recently the architect Jean Nouvel, who created the cultural building Philarmonie de Paris, deemed that his moral rights on the work were violated because of certain works that apparently were incorrectly performed.  After an opinion page in the Monde newspaper relating his disappointment concerning the project whose inauguration to the public seemed to be premature, he decided to sue the Philarmonie de Paris in order for the final deliver to correspond faithfully to his original view.  His lawyer indicated that he requested the Court to order that « modified works» be made in order for the twenty six « non-compliances » to be corrected with reference to the initial drawing.  However, the architect does not claim for any compensation, which strengthens the symbolic character of the moral right.

While the building which is dedicated to music opened on 14 January, its construction is in fact not completed. Jean Nouvel has himself confirmed that «the building has been opened within a timeline that did not allow architectural and technical requirements to be met ». After the project, which has been financed entirely with public funds, ran into significant financial difficulties, the architect also added that the architecture of the building was « martyred, the details sabotaged, so taxpayers will have to pay, once again, to correct these absurd decisions ». Therefore, the architect wished to assert his moral right, particularly the right to respect of his work.

On this matter, the Court of Cassation has already brought several elements of appreciation to lower courts in many matters pertaining to moral rights on architectural works. In a case of 11 June 2009, the Court stated that: « it was up [to the Court of Appeal] to determine whether, by way of their nature and importance, the changes made did or did not exceed what was strictly necessary and were or were not disproportionate to the aim pursued by the owner». The rule was not new as a decision of 7 January 1992 already confirmed that « the utilitarian nature of a building commissioned from an architect forbids him to try to impose an absolute intangibility of his work, to which its owner has the right to bring amendments when it is necessary to adapt it to new requirements; however the judicial authorities must assess whether the alterations made to the architectural work are legitimate, in terms of their nature and importance, with regards to the circumstances which constrained the owner to make them ».

The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, which will probably rely on these precedents, will therefore have to decide the fate of the Philarmonie de Paris whose design had been attributed to Jean Nouvel in 2007.