Planned USD student center upgrade sparks lawsuit


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A Massachusetts architectural firm has sued a competitor in South Dakota, accusing it of using the firm’s copyrighted designs in a planned upgrade to the University of South Dakota’s student center.

Charles Rose Architects of Somerville, Mass., contends that RSA Architects of Sioux Falls used its drawings and building plans for the Muenster University Center in Vermillion as a template for a 30,000-square-foot cafeteria addition that was scheduled to break ground this summer.

The Massachusetts firm filed a lawsuit last week in federal court in South Dakota. The lawsuit asks a jury to find that RSA Architects used the template in violation of federal copyright law. The firm seeks damages as well as any money paid to RSA for design work on the addition.

USD spokesman Phil Carter told the Argus Leader that no major work has commenced on the addition. He said the area has been fenced off, but nothing further has been done.

Carter declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Officials with RSA Architects did not immediately return messages to the newspaper for comment.

Sioux Falls lawyer Steve Johnson, who’s representing Charles Rose Architects, said there is little precedent in copyright law for infringement on a design, which makes the case unique. Few lawsuits of this nature have been opened and resolved, Johnson said.

He said this lawsuit could provide guidance in future architecture copyright disputes.

“It’s a case that could help guide architects in what can and can’t be done with plans that have a copyright,” Johnson said.

The copyright lawsuit is the second Charles Rose Architects has filed in relation to the Muenster University Center this month. The firm filed suit in state court alleging that the university failed to pay the firm for its work on the center, which was completed in 2009, and for work on the Beacom Center for Business.

That suit claims Charles Rose Architects is owed almost $100,000 for the business school project and $337,000 on the student union project.

Michael Luce, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing USD in the breach of contract dispute, said that case is in the early stages and he anticipates the courts will sort out the financial matters in a timely manner.