Various works by sculptor John T. Unger.
John T. Unger is a fabulously inventive artist, environmentalist, writer, small business owner and the creator of copyrighted sculptural Artisanal Firebowls. He crafts his wares with primarily recycled or re-used materials, designing for permanency and functionality. His work has been featured on Etsy, BoingBoing, Neatorama, and by Craft Magazine, Variety and VenusZine, to name only a few.
Right now Unger’s mired in what he has dryly referred to as “an unwanted education in copyright law” and boy, does it sound like FUN! Unger, who obtained legal copyright a while back to protect his original sculptures from piracy, says a man by the name of Rick Wittrig, owner of FirePitArt.com, has not only begun manufacturing and selling products which are extremely similar to Unger’s, but has even gone so far as to bring a federal lawsuit against Unger to have the copyrights for Unger’s own original artwork overturned.
Repeating for emphasis: Unger is being copyright-sued by a guy who makes knockoffs of his own work. Wooo!
Fire bowl, mask, and “fire imp” figurines by John T. Unger.
Attempts at settlement have failed. Unger, who has already spent $50,000 fighting against Wittrig, says that “seeking a judicial ruling in federal court will cost more than any artist or small business can afford on its own”, yet the lawsuit continues to move forward. Apparently, Wittrig has money to burn, so to speak. Unger isn’t taking it lying down:
A life in the arts is all I have ever really wanted. After more than 20 years of working towards that goal I have achieved success… It isn’t easy to make it as an artist and I didn’t have a lot of initial support. When I started my art business as a full time occupation I was homeless, $20,000 in debt, and had few tools but a laptop. I joke that “I did it with nothing, because nothing is free,” but there’s truth in this… I built what I have now from the ground up because I was passionate enough to keep doing the work no matter what else happened.
I don’t understand why a person would fight as hard as Mr. Wittrig has to profit from the work of another. It baffles me because I have devoted my life to making things which are unique and to marketing them as unique items crafted from a detailed personal philosophy. I don’t view original artwork as a commodity. I have no interest in imitation. If he had spent the time, energy and money that has gone into this lawsuit on designing original work, with its own story and its own unique appeal there would be plenty of room for both of us to succeed on our own merits.
Guys, I realize it’s important to pick one’s battles carefully in life. This might seem like an oddly piddling skirmish for me to throw in on, but honestly, supporting an artist like Unger is at the heart of why I got involved in an online community like Coilhouse in the first place.
If Wittrig wins by outspending, Unger could lose everything. Not just the rights to his own designs, but his house and his studio as well… basically everything he’s been working toward for roughly a decade. But at the heart of it, this is not about financial loss or gain. This is about not letting a bully with a big wallet ruin a truly creative person’s reputation and credibility. When basic protections like these are overturned, it weakens the law for all artists.
We can help: spread the word and if you can afford to, donate a buck or two to Unger’s defense fund. If you have a bit more spending money on hand, check out his incredible, lovingly made fire pits or other pieces– the integrity and beauty of Unger’s work speaks for him better than any press release ever could.