FirePitArt.com LLC v. John T. Unger

John T. Unger, a steel sculptor who crafts cauldrons and other fire ornaments at johntunger.com , all of which he says he explicitly copyrights, is being sued in federal court by FirePitArt.com , a larger-scale producer and marketer of some uncannily similar pieces.

While Unger claims to have definitive evidence that his designs are original, are registered, and predate the knock-offs, by not being the first to court he now faces default judgment if he is the first to run out of money. This seems likely, given that he is a private individual who has already parted with $5ok in legal fees.

He has made a blog on the legal situation, which he is also trying to spin into sales.

Too generic to copyright? Not art? Or dishonesty covered by deep pockets?  You decide…

Ungers claimed original Great Bowl O Fire

Unger's "Great Bowl O' Fire"

FirePitArt's "Ring of Fire"

FirePitArt's "Ring of Fire"

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Ungers King Isosceles Firebowl

Unger's "King Isosceles" Firebowl

FirePitArt's "Triptic"

FirePitArt's "Triptic"

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Ungers Waves O Fire

Unger's "Waves O' Fire"

FirePitArt's "Waves"

FirePitArt's "Waves"

19 comments

  • I find it so interesting that the original art looks so much more professional than the knock off. To me a clear indicator that the knock off artist truly is a knock off.

    So sad that someone with more money can come along and steal your ideas then sue you for it because they have more money.

    What in the world are we coming to these days.
    For shame FirePitArt!

  • I’d say if he has the proof that his is the original work and the company knocked him off, than it should be a pretty open and shut case. His work is better in the fact that it looks weel thought out and better designed.

  • How could any judge or court actually allow Firepit, LLC to even file the motion?

    Unger claims his designs are ‘registered’ so couldn’t he just go down to the courthouse with his registration papers and have the plaintiff’s case tossed out? It would certainly save thou$$$and$ of dollars in taxes and court fees for both parties.

    What does the law have to say about filing meritless claims of copyright infringement against the sole copyright owner themselves???

    BTW, I noticed two things…

    1) That Firepit came out with similarly finished products not just once, but 3 times. Had they stopped at the fire etched design I probably would’ve dismissed the notion of copying as coincidence, but c’mon, 3 times??? “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me!”

    2) Of course Firepit’s products have nicely finished edges since those are clearly CNC laser-cut. A private sculptor like Unger most likely cut his metal by hand probably with a torch? and beveled the edges himself, hence the rough-cut.

  • I REALLY want the “King Isosceles” Firebowl!!! That thing is completly badass!

  • Re: Tibbles –

    I think that originally, Unger found out about Wittrig (FirePitArt) and sent him a Cease and Desist. From Wittrig’s point of view, there is a certain logic to saying “all in” when you have a lot more chips than your opponent, even if both of you are pretty sure your cards aren’t as good.

    Since there is really no limit on appeals in these cases, you’re at a tremendous advantage if you think the other party has fewer financial resources than you do. Given the scale of these businesses, even if FirePitArt were to spend Unger into the ground and win by default, I doubt it would be cost effective for them. However, it would be even worse for Unger.

    It’s like playing Chicken when you know you have better brakes – still not smart for you if you actually have to go through with it, but smart if you can convince your opponent not to play at all and therefore be the Chicken.

    Because Unger has publicly rubbished FirePitArt and compromised the latter’s distribution contracts, FirePitArt’s complaint essentially challenges Unger to prove that his copyrights are enforceable and all his statements are true. It’s a nifty way of trying to flip the burden of proof, made more effective (as above) by having deeper pockets.

    As to why every court can’t just review the registrations and throw the claim out, FirePitArt is contending that the copyright office either made a mistake or was misled, since they registered them as “3D art / sculpture” and FirePitArt says they are functional utilitarian items and not art. Unger points out the bullshit-ness of this, explaining that “Wittrig sells his copies at art fairs, describes himself publicly as an artist, and even uses the word art in the name of his business.” But since Wittrig’s claim is that the registrations are invalid, the certificates themselves will not be enough to shut down the case prima facie.

  • If you view the source on Johns website you can see the year that he’s loaded some of the images & designs into some are 2006 and 2007. On the Fire Pit site the only year I can find is 2009. Now THAT is dodgy.

  • You can definitely tell that Unger’s designs are MUCH more complex than FirePitArt’s. It looks as though they’ve just taken his designs are simplified them. DUMB. I feel so bad for Unger.

  • I agree Lindsey, this shouldn’t be happening at all, and is a highlighting case that regulations NEED to be changed for copyright so it suits in favour of the original artist, not the person with the biggest wallet.

    I’ve not been made to think of people as scum for a while, but I feel these guys relish the thought of rolling around naked in disease-ridden piles of dung, so long as there was money mixed in with the crap. They just wouldn’t care :(

  • John Unger is one of the artists selling on 1000 Markets http://johntunger.1000markets.com and I have come to know him well over the last year.

    John is one of the hardest-working, most selfless artists I have met. Whenever we speak on the phone, he inevitably will turn the conversation to how he is helping other artists to be successful at their business.

    This whole conflict is much bigger than John; this is for all artists, everywhere. John is risking his livelihood and his financial well-being to defend the right of an independent artist to be compensated for their originality. Please help him in this fight.

  • Pingback: Please read – this affects ALL Artists! « The Scoop @ 1000 Markets – Announcements Bulletin Board

  • sometimes its hard to fight a big company when u are a small set up

  • Pingback: The Firebowl Controversy | PlagiarismToday

  • Adam McCormick

    When it comes down to it, Unger doesn’t have a case because they aren’t “copying” his work they are making a very similar product using similar iconography, but since Unger didn’t invent the iconography he has no claim to it. All he can claim is rights to the particular arrangement of edges he cuts into his bowls. I feel for the guy but he copyrighted something that wasn’t distinctive enough to prove that no one else might independently create it so he’ll probably lose his case.

    I feel for the guy and hope that FirePitArt.com LLC slips up and confirms that they saw Unger’s art before they made theirs, but otherwise he really doesn’t have a case.

  • I’m wondering if anyone’s noticing the bird shapes in Unger’s “Great Bowl O’ Fire”… If it were simply flames, I would give in that a flame design is something that isn’t extraordinarily original—but the bird design, you can see a rough copy of the same thing in FirePitArt’s knock off.

    I hope they notice this in court, and that Unger can survive that long.

  • Adam, read the post. Unger is getting sued

  • It looks as though the case has been resolved. As of December 11th, 2009: “John T. Unger/John T. Unger, LLC and Rick Wittrig/Firepitart.com LLC today announced a non-confidential settlement ending the legal dispute between them.” Considering that FirePitArt.com no longer sells the items in dispute… would it be safe to say that Mr. Unger has won?

  • The “firepitart.com” website now has all the John T Unger designs removed, Yah John!!!

  • The knock-off people are called FirePitArt and yet they lack fire.

    Glad to know that the original artist, John Unger, got back what is rightfully his!

  • Hi, I love your blog. Is there some thing I can do to obtain updates like a subscription or some thing? I am sorry I’m not familiar with RSS?

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