Friday, May 19, 2006

Through A Glass Darkly

The Seattle Times has the latest on the increasingly contentious lawsuit between Dale Chihuly and a former studio assistant. There seem to be two things going on:

1. As a defense to Chihuly's copyright infringement claims, the assistant is invoking the familiar idea-expression distinction. His counterclaim accuses Chihuly of seeking "a monopoly on any and all glass art that is curved, nested or uses certain kinds of colors. [Chihuly] cannot use copyright registrations to protect an idea or process that is so elementary that it would preclude any other glass artist from working or creating any glass art at all."

2. Beyond that, the assistant is apparently claiming co-authorship rights in a number of Chihuly works, which, among other things, would entitle him to a share of the profits from exploitation of those works. This is obviously a more radical claim: Absent an express agreement to the contrary, I'm not aware of a single case where a studio assistant was awarded co-authorship rights in a case like this. (Seattle P-I art critic Regina Hackett touched on this issue in a recent profile of Chihuly: "Throughout art history, artists have used assistants, sometimes liberally, but in the 20th century artists directly challenged the idea that art is more valuable as a hands-on operation. From Marcel Duchamp to Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Lawrence Weiner and Robert Gober, artists say that hands-on production is a choice, not an imperative.")