Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
How 920 streetlights in Doha launched a years-long legal battle between industrial designers and the State of Qatar.
A nighttime drive down Al Waab Street toward the harbor in Doha, Qatar, puts one literally in the spotlight of what some are calling "one of the biggest cases of public counterfeiting in the history of design." That's what officials at the Spanish industrial design firm Santa & Cole think, anyway. They're the firm that designed the streetlights shining down on drivers along this roughly 10-kilometer stretch of road. Problem is, the 920 streetlights lining that roadway are alleged copies.
It may not be the biggest case of counterfeiting in the history of design, but it's likely the biggest in the history of streetlights.
Towering up and leaning over the street like splayed chopsticks, the streetlights are almost exact replicas of Santa & Cole's "Latina" streetlights, designed by architect Beth Galí and installed on streetscapes from Spain to Italy to the Netherlands. Qatar could have been another official entry on that list. In late 2005, Santa & Cole were invited to present a lighting design for transforming Al Waab Street ahead of Doha's hosting of the 2006 Asian Games. Those designs were then allegedly taken by the State public works authority, Ashghal, and sent to another firm to more affordably replicate the lights Santa & Cole had proposed.
Santa & Cole and Galí are so upset about the breach of intellectual property that they've launched an online campaign about the alleged counterfeit, QatarFakes.com. An extensive and document-rich timeline of the entire process is detailed on the site.
Despite a Cease and Desist letter [PDF], numerous attempts to negotiate, and an attempted arbitration through the World Intellectual Property Organization of the United Nations, the streetlights still stand in Doha.
Santa & Cole argues that the poorly built streetlights are not only a breach of intellectual property rights, but also create a negative impression of their design.
Officials in Qatar have declined to participate in any negotiations or arbitration related to the streetlights. With little recourse, Galí has filed a lawsuit against the State of Qatar with courts in Barcelona, which has the support of Santa & Cole, the Barcelona Center for Design and the Design For All Foundation. She calls the whole ordeal "a large-scale forgery case that is threatening the creativity of professionals and European companies." She's hoping the lawsuit will put an end to this years-long battle. For now, drivers in Doha will continue to navigate Al Waab Street under the glow of these controversial streetlights.
Top image: Allegedly counterfeit streetlights in place on a street in Doha, Qatar. Courtesy Santa & Cole