Zaha Hadid refuses to hand over copyright for unpaid Japan stadium designs


The organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are refusing to pay Zaha Hadid for her scrapped stadium design until she gives up all copyright on the project and signs a gagging order.

Zaha Hadid Architects declined the request from the Japan Sports Council (JSC) to sign a revised contract including a new clause requiring the firm to give up the copyright for its competition-winning design, in exchange for an already overdue payment.

The JSC is also demanding that the architect agree to prevent anyone at the firm, including herself, from commenting on the the project now that it has been handed over to Japanese architect Kengo Kuma.

Japan scraps Zaha Hadid's Tokyo 2020 Olympic Stadium
Zaha Hadid's stadium design was scrapped by Japan in July 2015

"We can confirm that we received and rejected a written request from the Japan Sports Council to modify our existing contract to allow the transfer of the copyright of the detailed design for Japan National Stadium, owned by ZHA, in exchange for an overdue final payment," said the firm in a statement sent to Dezeen.

"ZHA has also declined a request to sign an additional new contract clause requiring the design team to no longer provide information or comment on the project, in exchange for this outstanding payment being honoured," it added.

Zaha Hadid's firm had been working on the stadium for over two years before being being booted off the job last July in a row over spiralling costs.

It claims to have been chasing overdue fees since October for "months of work carried out by a team of more than 100 architects and engineers in Japan and the UK working for ZHA and many other companies."

The revised agreement – reported by The Telegraph and confirmed by Zaha Hadid Architects – specifies that the stadium's new design team is "allowed to use any product of work... regardless of its copyright".

It also states that the JSC may "use project work freely, without additional payment or restriction (includes alteration and any other use) and mutually agrees that [Zaha Hadid Architects] will consent without objection".

The JSC is refusing to provide payment until the revised agreement is signed.

"We welcome that the JSC has acknowledged the issue of the intellectual property for the fundamental and detailed elements of the stadium design," added Hadid's firm.

"ZHA has submitted a report to the JSC detailing the significant similarities between the structure, layout and numerous elements of the original detailed design for the national stadium for Japan and the latest designs," it continued. "This document will form the basis for the discussions we hope to resume shortly with the JSC to resolve the important issue of the use of valuable design work that is currently the copyright of ZHA and the original design team."

Kengo Kuma beats Toyo Ito to win Japan National Stadium competition
Kengo Kuma beat Toyo Ito to win the new competition for the Japan National Stadium project

The firm has since sent a letter to Toshiaki Endo, the Japanese minister overseeing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic games, expressing fears that their design would be "exploited" and their "public humiliation" would not be rectified.

"It may be convenient for those who have benefitted from our humiliation to want us to be quiet, but until the matter is publicly addressed, we cannot support a process and project which damaged us so wrongfully," reads the letter, as reported in The Telegraph.

The architecture firm has threatened legal action if its concerns are not addressed.

Kengo Kuma was appointed to take over the stadium project in December, ahead of a rival bid from fellow Japanese architect Toyo Ito. Both architects had openly criticised Hadid's design, claiming it was too big and too expensive.

Hadid followed up the announcement with a statement accusing Japanese authorities and architects of colluding against her, and claiming that Kuma's design had "remarkable similarities" to her own.

Costs for Hadid's stadium began at ¥130 billion (£707.1 million) but rose to ¥252 billion (£1.37 billion) in 2015. The new design team has to work to a revised budget of ¥155 billion (£843 million).

  • JayCee

    In fact a fairly standard contract clause when projects are handed over to a new team. She should just shut up and stop grandstanding in the press: it makes her look pathetic.

    • Gavin

      Normally I’m game for Hadid slamming, but you’re a cretin. Who would give up copyright on their scheme when they’ve been bulldozed off a project?

      • JEng

        Even if she was paid in full, she owns the design. In America architects hold onto the AutoCAD of their plans because they don’t want to be bootlegged.

        My mother’s architect shared his AutoCAD because my mother gave him her word that it was only for a prospective tenant’s request and not to copy it for another architect, and that prospective tenant was uncommonly reputable so my mother was comfortable vouching for them.

        What Ms. Hadid is claiming is standard for all architects and it should be respected. This is definitely a different Japan than the courteous and professional one of 20 years ago when a skyscraper overseer told me that Japan would not do that, but Korea would (build off of other people’s plans without permission).

        Now the tables have turned and Koreans are more trusted than Japanese. I’m sure the architects are all troubled at reading this news because Japan seemingly copied the Olympic logo from a Belgian theatre logo, right?

      • JayCee

        You should read contracts more often Gavin. Handing over copyright to the client is standard after being paid for the work. Gag orders are less common, but I’m pretty sure the Japanese just want her to shut up. One thing is for sure, she can kiss goodbye to any future Japanese public work.

        • JEng

          My mom doesn’t have contracts as far as I know. I think she just calls people up and asks them to help her file something at DOB. I’m not sure we would even know an architect’s contract if we ever saw one.

          They must be tricky, right? Because architects know more than their one-time clients what to watch out for. Such a complicated world for we Mayors of Simpleton.

        • john bassi

          Obviously it was not written in the original contract, hence this request.

        • Lozza

          The Japanese just didn’t handle this very well.

    • HeywoodFloyd

      I’m also down for slamming ZHA whenever possible, but on this I think I’m with them. If this is a fairly standard contract clause then it should have been written into the original contract as opposed to trying to get them to sign a post-nup.

    • Phil

      Copyright and Olympics, touchy subject. Don’t be that embarrassed Mr Heatherwick.

  • guest

    Zaha will sue and she will win. This is disgraceful from Japan, again. Shame.

    • David Taeko Taylor

      Don’t count on it, the counter suit would be horrendous for her firm.

      • JEng

        So stupid. I had a customer who worked on Yoko Ono’s paperwork. I forget now what she said, but my dumb dad with his sixth-grade education was absolutely right, never sue. I think early on in his life, he had been dragged into being the plaintiff when he didn’t want to be because he had very aggressive and confident partners, but though he liked lawyers on a personal level, he never wanted to go to court. Avoid at all costs.

        It’s a set up against both sides of clients, there is no excuse for it. I just think that the press tells us about the upside and never the reality for both sides.

        Japan does not need this crap PR, and I know you see an older FEMALE (ding ding ding) and she’s complained in the press before. So you can outspend her, and she looks like the type of person who would take a lawsuit personally so you would get off on the sadism aspect. That is a lot of money to spend so you get to gloat WHILE you send the message that YOU are horrible to do business with.

        And that was NOT your rep when you were playing nice twenty years ago.

    • Lozza

      Well said.

  • Guest

    Where’s the discretion or self-awareness? This should all be played out behind closed doors. After all, what’s it got to do with any of us? I’m with the Japanese.

    • JEng

      No, this is scary because no architect no matter how famous has the deep pockets of the Japanese government, which promotes its honesty and integrity in its arguments with its neighbours.

      A Japan with that much sponsored-content influence in the Western press outmatches any celebrity architect.

    • john bassi

      Why are they moving the goalpost? Why do they want the copyright if they thought her design was so bad? I would triple the amount due if they want it so bad. Works both ways.

  • com_on

    Wow. They want her “to sign a revised contract including a new clause requiring the firm to give up the copyright for its competition-winning design, in exchange for an already overdue payment”.

    So to get the outstanding payment for the work she has previously done, they have changed the rules and conditions. Huh? I’m no fan of Zaha Hadid Architects, but wow Japan. Bow in shame. I believe in some way shape or form, a lot of architects go through this.

    • JEng

      I know someone famous in NYC among the trades – plumbers, electricians – who is notorious for doing that and I won’t say who it is because everybody knows him now.

      I also know a big business – a huge brand and soft power – that does the same thing to its vendors. Nobody says boo because they are all hooked up, but maybe if someone once said something early on, it would be halted.

      • McMug_Pun

        Does “he” happen to be a presidential candidate?

        • JEng

          What I was told – I know it’s not fair and probably not true to believe everything you hear – but the established guy out of the blue just blew up and said that it happened to his bro’, and that it’s habitual.

          Everything goes well until final payment, then the big shot who you really wanted to get more jobs in the future from – which is why you submitted a barely profitable bid in the first place – tells you that you aren’t getting that last payment and that legal fees to chase after that will cost you more than the fee itself, and it will take forever. I think he was telling me to not ever be that kind of client.

          I heard something similar about foreigners going to Asian factory owners and putting in a big initial order, so that you had to expand your plant hoping that this could be your iron rice bowl – more orders in the future if you get this right. Nope. They move onto somebody else.

          Bloomingdale’s asked my dad for mini mooncake (fifty cents each retail) to be sold to them at a loss, then sold stale and hard for four dollars (yes, all my bridges are burned) and they wanted Dad to do it again and Dad said no because you won’t let me earn and expect me to hope that someday I’ll make money off of this. Dad would have made a terrible bimbo.

          It’s weird that the Japanese are doing the same thing to this architect because apparently in NYC, it’s not unheard of. I don’t know if the actual Japanese-only construction industry is like that, since it’s all yakuza, right?

          I was told they showed their best face to foreigners back in the 1980s and up to the late 1990s. The secretaries and the wives however had NO problem telling rich foreign wives, even Chinese ones, their woes. With all eyes on them with the Olympics, why are they doing something so… not unheard of in the construction industry?

          Is it because she is a female architect?

    • Tina

      Shame on the JSC, not Japan. The actions of the JSC certainly does not represent common behaviuor here with regard to contracts.

      • Lozza

        Agreed. But maybe many people in Japan are glad a foreigner didn’t get the project in the end?

        • Edlyn Pell

          What’s wrong with that?

    • JEng

      Can’t they refuse to sign off? I was told that an architect’s lawyer buddy refused to sign off and the lawyer betrayed his client and released escrow. I even saw the letter where the architect introduces himself as a close friend of the lawyer, who betrayed his client for his friend. And I saw the paperwork where these guys were also lending money to this architect who is now the big shot HPD developer and donates generously to charity.

      But there’s no excuse that these numskulls signed all these letters asking him to make his loan payments for one business and then have him refuse sign off the C of O on a totally different business, while those nobodies’ own lawyer absolutely shatters their self esteem by releasing the balance of the payment due the architect. Even back in the day, I AM SHOCKED by how much that architect charged these uneducated fools who worked mostly in restaurants and relied on this trusted GOLDEN attorney.

      NICE to have connections like that, right? My dad signed one of those dunning notices but he was too busy at his factory to be in on the day to day, and from the looks of it, his partners were super tortured by the late loan payments for their SBIC.

  • Durgen Jensen

    Next time just skip ZHA.

  • laven87

    Fair pay! Shame on Japan!

  • Tina

    In this instance, the JSC was wrong. But I’m afraid airing dirty laundry like this will make the firm less appealing to potential future clients that value discretion.

    On another note, I’m faintly disturbed by how some Dezeen readers equate the actions of the JSC with the actions of the whole of Japan and Japanese people. Did this happen with the controversies surrounding the London Olympics? It’s all beginning to smell like racism.

    • Neek

      I completely agree with all of the above.

    • JEng

      I don’t agree. I can’t imagine that everyone would not sympathise with her, because not every client is interested in not paying their bills. It’s so weird that they are doing this. I think it’s her gender. Something set them off.

      She didn’t do anything wrong that caused this, and she’s not snitching, she’s sending out a clarion call, a distress signal, a primal scream GIVE ME MY MONEY. Wouldn’t you want to know this?

      • Tina

        I find it strange that ZHA is making such a situation public, because I’m pretty sure this has happened to architects with the same stature as ZHA on similarly prominent projects. What warranted such public disclosure in this particular instance? I personally believe it has to do with a lack of discretion on ZHA’s part.

        I also believe that we don’t have all the facts in this case to render clear judgment.

        • JEng

          It’s stunning for a nation to pull this. Personally in business it happens. Maybe she is trying to wield publicity against them and she should because this is not in the Olympic spirit at all. She ought to know that when the Japanese catch you on a mistake or achilles heel, they dig in. Yoko Ono’s pro-peace, pro-forgiveness does not extend to her husband’s murder for example.

          The architect is so specific and this news has been distributed so widely that she better be speaking the truth otherwise it will blow up in her face. In which case, the Japanese should want her to advertise this – the same is true for the missing Hong Kong booksellers.

          • Tina

            Again, I think we should not confuse the specific actions of the JSC with any sort of overall Japanese or national “tendency”. That is a dangerous way of thinking to adopt. The actions of the JSC certainly do not represent me as a person of Japan, nor do they speak for all Japanese people.

  • agagnu

    Why are the schemes here still being judged by a bird’s-eye view? In any case it seems a non-architectural issue, it’s a landscape issue. Win the scheme on the backs of the landscape design. As for pay, pay for the work done.

  • thepixinator

    Wow, let’s see: “We’re going to pick your design, not pay you the money we owe you for working on it, then we’ll reject your design, and demand to keep it for ourselves, even though we’re not using it.” Really, Japan? I hope ZHA sweeps you out with the dust.

  • JEng

    That rejected design looks like the shoulders for a hairdressing doll head. Stick a giant Barbie head on it and we can start practicing giving the doll a blowout.

  • poretu

    The JSC should pay Zaha and her team the money they deserve for all the work they have done, and if she needs to go to court over this issue she should.

    However, I still think she should drop the fight that the new stadium has interior similarities. There are only so many ways to build a stadium given the government’s proposed restrictions that won’t infringe on sight lines or stability. Besides the exterior, a stadium’s a stadium.

  • Robin

    I don’t know the details of it but from what’s in the article, it sounds like ZHA are doing the right thing. To ditch a design and then insist on buying the copyright by withholding previously agreed fee is downright disgraceful.

    I am not a fan of the original design, nor much of ZHA’s work, but this is a matter of principle. Take copyright out of the discussion and they should still be paid. To use the remaining balance as ransom to get more than originally agreed (i.e. copyright) is/should be criminal.

  • JD

    With a budget blow-out like that, I would want to hand it over to someone else too.

    • Sim

      Over here the increase in budget almost always stems from the fickleness of the client (adding to the design brief) rather than it being the architects/designers fault. Annoyingly, the architect gets the blame in most cases.

  • 竜皐一

    I support Zaha. There is no need to give up design rights for money if so she wishes. Even so, she may decide to sell her right if she can. In this case, Zaha decided not to, and that is the decision for her and her office only.

    This stadium is one of the biggest and the most important public project that Japan has ever built, certainly for an Olympic games. The process is to become precedence of future of Japanese public projects.

    First of all, Zaha won the competition in a fair and correct process. Second of all, questions remain as to whether a prime minister can decide to abandon/change the contract of a public work with the excuses that now seem to contradict its reasoning, of the work that were given in a correct fashion.

    Agreeing to keep one’s mouth shut for money means the same as selling one’s pride for money. Should a designer sell her/his pride for money? It depends on the case.

    Japan was the land of Samurai where honour meant more than money. But this tradition is now gone as Japan think it can buy anything with money. Zaha seems to possess more Samurai spirit than a Japanese who were born during the baby boom.

    At the side of client, or nation of Japan and her architects, it like admitting that the Japanese cannot come up with one smarter idea than what Zaha has produced. In the recent past one has said Japanese are good at (only) copying and now the baby-boom prime minister has broadcasted to the world that Japanese are still only capable of copying the idea.

    How sad for a believer who was fascinated by the recent stunning works from Japan.

  • Mavi

    Bringing the Olympics case to a national level? Really JSC? Shame on you.

  • David Taeko Taylor

    Hmmm. So her firm won a competition to build a high-profile stadium with public money. The budget became double, and her firm was sacked. Fair enough, she failed the most basic test.

    The JSC, who until they pay have control of the design, wish to ensure the design is not re-used somewhere else, and they can use what has already been built, and integrate that into the new design. So they have withheld a payment until she agrees to “new” unforeseen conditions.

    I would have imagined the JSC would have become owners of the copyright of the design upon entry to the original competition. Something doesn’t add up here. All stadiums have “remarkable similarities”. The project has been started, and works commenced.

    The JSC is protecting itself from having to completely re-start the works, and to enable itself to use some of her firms design. I am sure the newer design will have to fit into her firms design at some level, so it only makes sense to obtain copyright.

    It seems it was an oversight by the JSC. It is also pretty standard when a contract is terminated because of apparent incompetence, (like this), for the works to be commenced from where they stand, and not to completely wipe the site and start again.

    It is the Japanese people’s money. They should be suing her, and she will be very lucky if they don’t, for breach of contract in delivering the project within budget. Lucky for the Japanese public, who are paying, it was snipped in the bud. Imagine if it had been allowed to proceed further, and then it had to be re-designed to come in on budget?

    • McMug_Pun

      Now now, failing to meet the targeted budget isn’t quite the same as “breach of contract”. That’s really quite a stretch.
      You are right, the money belong to the Japanese people, and they can drop her design all they want – as long as they have paid the bill.

      And if they still want to utilise elements in her design, they can buy it from her and pass it onto Kuma. What they can’t do is to withhold the agreed payment for ZHA’s labour, appropriating her design, and even throwing in a gag order as a bonus Plus, the “stop all future comment” request is just plain tacky.

      • David Taeko Taylor

        In some circumstances, depending on the regional law, it can be the most common cause for breach of contract. I would be most surprised if the budget wasn’t part of the contract, as I have never seen an architect/client contract without it.

    • Sim

      I’ll repeat here what I wrote above: “Over here the increase in budget almost always stems from the fickleness of the client (adding to the design brief) rather than it being the architects/designers fault. Annoyingly, the architect gets the blame in most cases.” I think you shouldn’t judge until you know all the facts.

      • David Taeko Taylor

        I agree, but it would be unusual for a competition to be without the budget in the contract, and it is the architect’s responsibility to see it comes in on budget. A 100 per cent blow-out at commencement is pretty damning.

  • john bassi

    I would like to see the original terms of the contract. They should honour the original terms of the contract, simple. Zaha did not sign up to this and she should not under any circumstances.

  • 竜皐一

    In principle, the architect gives little concern about copyrights. Yet in this case as the power continues to abuse the architectural profession I see no reason as to why an architect has to give his/her rights up to client, especially when the client ditched it.

    In principle, a client DOES NOT NEED the copyright of the design, which he/she has ditched. JSC is apparently USING ZHA’s intellectual property in order to realise the new design, which means the new project is actually NOT NEW.

    Therefore ZHA can protest the reason to ditch her design. JSC made its position worse as this demand suggests that JSC is conducting something incorrect. Perhaps it is like the Olympic logo.

    • JEng

      It’s also going to be impossible for Japan to not use Chinese cultural heritage in its opening and closing ceremonies, even Amura Namie is a scintilla Fujianese because she actually has Okinawan blood not Japanese blood.

      Everything that they need to feel good about themselves for their Olympics has to be copied from somewhere else, even the folding fan – do they really expect anyone to believe that the folding fan, which echoes Chinese calligraphy folding for its children to stay within the margins, is inherently Japanese?

  • vgcamara

    You feel bullied, Zaha? Taken advantage of? Maybe you can relate a bit to the interns and people that work for you…

  • The_Pinchhitter

    Another own-goal by Japan!

  • Lozza

    Why should she?

  • Lozza

    So she should work for nothing?

    • JEng

      I doubt her estate has the stomach to fight the Japanese copying the design completely posthumously. This sucks.

  • RIP

  • etiennes

    This death is highly suspicious. I think it is related to her trouble with the Japanese construction industry, which is 100% owned by Yakuza companies. Has her body been checked for poison or similar non-natural death causes?