Attribution in the Profession of Architecture in BC
Architects are understandably sensitive about receiving fair and accurate credit for the professional services they provide. Public representatives such as the media, clients, award-granting entities and local government also have an important interest in accurate project attribution. Professional acrimony – sometimes leading to complaints of unprofessional conduct – arises with unnecessary frequency around the issue of ‘who did what’.
In 2009, AIBC Council approved a new Bulletin and passed a council ruling to reinforce the ethical expectations related to project attribution. Bulletin 44 - Attribution: Giving and Taking Credit for Architectural Services is intended to underscore the importance of fairness and accuracy and provide detailed guidance on the expected standards for giving and taking credit. The ‘mother bylaw’ and rulings, including attribution ruling (b), read as follows:
Bylaw 32.2 An architect shall accurately represent to the public, a prospective or existing client or employer the architect’s qualifications and the scope of the architect’s responsibility in connection with work for which the architect is claiming credit.
(a) An architectural firm’s representations must accurately reflect current principals and staff capacities.
(b) An architect or firm claiming credit for a project, or any part of the architectural services on a project, must ensure that credit is given to the project’s original firm or firms and that any credit taken is accurate and limited to the extent of services provided.
Bulletin 44 reminds architects that the ‘Bedrock Principle’ underlying attribution is that the original or ‘author’ firm(s) must be given clear and accurate project credit. The document reviews various common scenarios from an attribution perspective, including: firm name changes; firm mergers and acquisitions; multi-firm credit, sequential design credit; and how an individual architect or associate should give and take credit on web sites, résumés, fee proposals, etc.
Two of the most common sources of error are firm web sites and social media, particularly the use by architects and associates of LinkedIn. On architectural firm web sites, the ‘cut lines’ or captions connected to project photos must be accurate. Readers encountering an image of a building on a firm’s web site are entitled to assume that firm was the architect for that building unless credit is otherwise given. Similarly, an architect who leaves a firm and establishes her own firm should not be showing her predecessor firm’s work under “Our Projects” or similar web page. Any time a project from the predecessor firm is shown or described, that firm must be given credit. An individual is certainly entitled to take credit for the work he or she performed, but not for the project itself.
Architects and associates using LinkedIn or other networking/promotional vehicles are reminded of the Bedrock Principle: the original firm for a project must be given clear credit. The AIBC recognizes that digital media and the relative ease with which graphics and text are publicly and privately transmitted can make compliance with the attribution standards more difficult. However, accurate credit is a professional expectation at all times. When providing digital images to external sites that the firm does not control, it is good practice to add the correct attribution to the photo as a watermark, rather than depending on others to accurately reproduce the information in print. Members and associates should also be cognizant of copyright concerns when using images.
Prevention and Sensible Resolutions
Firms evolve, principals and employees change and new firms arise constantly. The Bedrock Principle should be kept in mind as firms change names and as new marketing material is established. The AIBC recommends that the individual(s) responsible for firm marketing and communications, whether an architect or not, be conversant with Bulletin 44. Firms should also provide accurate information when responding to surveys and media inquiries about their client base, revenue, project portfolio and ‘bench strength’, such as number of registered architects.
Where attribution confusion or an unusual scenario arises, institute practice and professional conduct staff are available to provide guidance. When a firm or architect identifies an apparent mis-attribution, the institute expects members to attempt to resolve the concern professionally at first instance. As Bulletin 44 advises:
….Many project credit issues are triggered by misunderstandings and unintentional errors (often arising from not monitoring and maintaining web sites) that can be quickly resolved in good faith. Not every inaccurate photo caption is cause for a professional conduct complaint. Members and associates are encouraged to work together to resolve attribution concerns amicably.
3.4.5 When a legitimate error is identified, it should be addressed quickly by the offending party. A prompt, sincere apology and correction can go a long way to preserving professional relationships and demonstrating good faith.
In the event that an attribution disagreement cannot be settled through professional dialogue, a complaint of unprofessional conduct can be directed to the institute.