China Copies Austrian Town Design
Intellectual property laws provide protection from written works to device designs to names, colors, and concepts. But how far do they extend? To the design of a building? What about the plan of an entire town? Residents of Hallstatt, an Austrian village that’s a popular tourist destination and UNESCO Heritage Site, were surprised and disturbed to find out that Minmetals Land Ltd, the real estate development division of a major Chinese company, was planning to build a duplicate of their town in China.
The town of Hallstatt is tiny, boasting only 900 inhabitants, and relies on revenue brought in by tourists to survive. The tourists come for the brilliant natural beauty of the location and its centuries of culture. But apparently some of these visitors have had more than tourism on their minds. A Chinese guest staying in Hallstatt apparently let slip the plans to develop a Chinese version of the town, and that Minmetals employees had been studying the area, photographing buildings, and taking measurements, hidden in the crowd of 800,000 tourists that visit the site yearly.
The Chinese version of the town will be built in Guangdong Province; construction apparently began in April. It will be built in mirror image of the original, perhaps an attempt to evade intellectual property laws. What exactly those laws are seems unclear. A representative of UNESCO stated, “the legal situation still needs to be examined,” and that building a replica from a photograph is permissible, but using measurements obtained without permission is not.
Personally, I find the concept bizarre, and I am pretty sure I would be unsettled to know a duplicate of my house was on the other side of the world. Even stranger, this isn’t the first time this has happened; Barcelona, Venice, and London have all been copied, in part, by Chinese companies. The legal situation is odd enough that I don’t even know what laws would apply; if this were two cities in the United States, a case for trademark infringement might be in order, as Hallstatt derives a great deal of revenue from its uniqueness. However, some in the town claim that this will only result in greater tourism for the original, and they may well choose not to protest. Probably a wise choice, as there’s little they could actually do if they wanted to stop the construction.