Expression, Art and Copyright

Glass Artists Face Off in Court

Mr. Chihuly is in the midst of a hard-edged legal fight in federal court here over the distinctiveness of his creations and, more fundamentally, who owns artistic expression in the glass art world.

Mr. Chihuly has sued two glass blowers, including a longtime collaborator, for copyright infringement, accusing them of imitating his signature lopsided creations, and other designs inspired by the sea.

“About 99 percent of the ocean would be wide open,” Mr. Chihuly said in an interview. “Look, all I’m trying to do is to prevent somebody from copying me directly.”

The glass blowers say that Mr. Chihuly is trying to control entire forms, shapes and colors and that his brand does not extend to ancient and evolving techniques derived from the natural world.

“Just because he was inspired by the sea does not mean that no one else can use the sea to make glass art,” said Bryan Rubino, the former acolyte named in the suit who worked for Mr. Chihuly as a contractor or employee for 14 years. “If anything, Mother Nature should be suing Dale Chihuly.”