The suit, rare in art circles, offers a sometimes unflattering glimpse at how high-powered commercial artists like Mr. Chihuly work. The two glass blowers say that he has very little to do with much of the art, and that he sometimes buys objects and puts the Chihuly name on them, a contention that Mr. Chihuly strongly denies.Why is this a copyright case and not a contracts case? If Chihuly hired Rubino and kept him on for 14 years, why did he he never make Rubino sign a contract that would have limited Rubino from making similar shapes to sell on his own?
He acknowledges that he has not blown glass for 27 years, dating from a surfing accident that cost him the full range of shoulder motion, an injury that struck three years after he had lost sight in his left eye in a traffic accident.
Still, Mr. Chihuly said, he works with sketches, faxes and through exhortation. Nothing with his name on it ever came from anyone but himself, he said....
...Mr. Chihuly called Mr. Rubino a "gaffer," a term for a glassblower who labors around a furnace at the instruction of an artist. Asked to assess Mr. Rubino, Mr. Chihuly said, "He was an excellent craftsman" with little vision of his own.
"You think I would ever let Rubino decide what something looks like?" Mr. Chihuly asked.
Bonus photo: a closeup of the big Chihuly sculpture at the Milwaukee Art Museum, taken last Saturday:
There is a signature look to the work. It's impossible for me to tell from the linked article how close to Chihuly's Rubino's designs are. This article gives some more context:
Chihuly sued Rubino and Redmond art entrepreneur Robert Kaindl in October, accusing them of copying his designs and selling "knockoffs" at several local galleries. Last week, Chihuly alleged in court documents that the two had pored over books of Chihuly's works and picked out designs that Rubino would make for Kaindl to sell....So what do you think, copyright experts? I'm guessing that it's rather obvious that the "work for hire" Rubino did for Chihuly makes him not a co-author and that this claim is a bargaining chip in the litigation process. Rubino just wants to be able to sell his own work now, even though it's similar to the work he did with Chihuly. Should he win on that claim? Artists are always copying each other's styles. It's disturbing to think that they should have to worry about being sued by the more successful artists who came before them. The old could prey on the young mercilessly, and the development of artistic styles would be crippled by litigious artists.
...Rubino says he created or co-authored some of the works that Chihuly is suing to protect, and that some of the work he did for the artist was done "without any creative input whatsoever from (Chihuly Inc.) or Dale Chihuly."
As evidence, Rubino submitted a fax he says he received from Chihuly. The fax includes sticklike drawings and the following instructions: "Here's a little sketch but make whatever you want. We'll get everything up to Tacoma when you're done and I'll try to come down while you're blowing. Till then, Chihuly."...
Rubino is asking the court to declare him a co-author of some of Chihuly's more famous pieces, and award him profits associated with those works.
Chihuly acknowledged in his suit that "Rubino worked on virtually every series created by Chihuly." But he claimed that Rubino signed away any rights to the work when he was Chihuly's employee, and that as a contractor, all of the work Rubino made for Chihuly was done under Chihuly's direction and control.
Chihuly's designs are way too distinctive to make me buy Rubino's argument that they are nothing more than nature's design. Chihuly may like to say that he's inspired by the sea, but these swirls and curlicues don't look much like any sea I've ever gazed upon. But perhaps his designs come quite directly from the inherent limitations of glassblowing, the traditional techniques of the craft, and the decision to work very large. If so, Chihuly is trying to monopolize the field of art glass.