Copyright 101 question: Dan, an aging but venerable author asks Morgan, a fellow author to help him with a book. In a correspondence, Dan says to Morgan, “Here’s a little sketch but make whatever you want.” Dan turns around to sue Morgan for infringing– er– himself?

      Now take and apply it to an even more contentious arena for IP– the world of glass sculpture.

      That's the story behind a recent copyright suit being brought forward by Seattle glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. Chihuly is suing a longtime collaborator for putting out glass sculptures that too closely resemble his postmodern, sea-inspired works.

      There are two key problems with this suit: 1.) the quotation from the hypothetical is an direct quotation from the plaintiff to the defendant in a correspondence between the two. Chihuly stopped blowing glass 27 years ago and has since relied on other artists to carry out– obviously with varying degrees of guidance– his visions (hat tip to Prof. Michael Madison). 2.) How easy is it to declare ownership over abstracted, nautical themed glass sculptures? There is a reason copyright has been slow to show itself in the art world. As the defense attorney in the case put it: "If the first guy who painted Madonna and Child had tried to copyright it," Mr. Wakefield said, "half of the Louvre would be empty."

Daniel Corbett

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