De Las Cases had rented out her stylish apartment in Paris’ 17th arrondissement through the site for several years.
As a designer and illustrator, the converted loft is decorated entirely by her original designs, so she was rather surprised to discover that it had been recreated, down to tiny details, in the Pacific port city of San Francisco.
In December 2013, de Las Cases first saw photos of Airbnb’s American headquarters in the press, and realized that it looked very familiar. Furniture, wallpaper and even travel souvenirs and her own artwork had all apparently been copied from her own home.
Zoé de Las Cases' apartment, left, and Airbnb's headquarters, right. Photos: Zoé de Las Cases/Airbnb
“I was morally shocked by their behaviour,” De Las Cases told The Local.
“Without a doubt, I would have accepted their offer (of copying the apartment's design) quite happily if they had done things within the rules,” the designer said, specifying they should have used her name when sharing images of her office space.
“Today, I want to regain ownership of my work.”
De Las Cases had hosted the Airbnb's founder Bryan Chesky and 14 members of his team in January 2012, after they contacted her to congratulate her on the quality of her profile.
De las Cases wasn't at home during the stay and was only in contact with their assistant, but says her impression of the team at the time was that they were “rather nice”. She now assumes they used the time to take photos of her home before working with decorators and designers to recreate the look back in America.
As well as taking inspiration from her apartment and failing to notify her, it seems that Airbnb also accessed de Las Cases’s account on the website. De Las Cases claims that a booking, under the name of Airbnb’s Head of Hospitality Chip Conley, was accepted on her profile without her having the option to reject it – something which is not usually possible on the platform.
De Las Cases found this “insensitive and quite shocking,” and asked them to cancel the reservation.
“The risk is that they (the firm) forget that the hosts run their properties from accommodation where they also have their family lives. Airbnb tends to force people to run their properties more effectively, more productively, and sometimes people change their lifestyle in order to live up to Airbnb's expectations.”
Photos: Zoé de Las Cases/Airbnb
As a professional artist, De Las Cases that Airbnb haven't just invaded her privacy, but have also threatened her work. She says she has invested time, money and effort in creating the look of her apartment, which she describes as a mixture of “Scandinavian and industrial inspirations” and which has been featured in several design publications. “Why should Airbnb be allowed to treat itself to my work for free?” she asks.
“They told us that it was a 'homage' and that we should be proud,” she said. “We replied that if it was a 'homage', they should have included our name.”
Photos: Zoé de Las Cases/Airbnb
The Parisian contacted her lawyer to defend her intellectual property rights. A few weeks later, Airbnb sent new conditions to all its users, which De Las Cases refused to sign onto. Her apartment was taken down from the site shortly after, but she is still unhappy about what she sees as their plagiarism.
De Las Cases feels that the incident contradicts the company’s supposed values of hospitality and respect.
Building a legal case will be difficult due to the differences in intellectual property laws in France and America, but De Las Cases thinks the incident indicates a wider problem of people being unwilling to pay creatives for their work. “There is a lack of recognition of the professional aspect of this work,” she told The Local.
“Lots of people think they can avoid spending money because they can do it themselves, they think it's easy. And often their solution is to copy. I think that today, when communication is so important, knowing how to surround yourself with talented creators is indispensable.”
The Local has contacted Airbnb for comment.