Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Graffiti Artists and Copyright Law

Celia Lerman, Universidad Torcuato Di Tella, has published Protecting Artistic Vandalism: On Graffiti and Copyright Law. Here is the abstract.

Can unauthorized graffiti be protected under copyright law? As the graffiti and street art movements develop, there are growing concerns regarding the reproduction and preservation of graffiti works. This article argues that graffiti works can receive copyright protection, because copyright is essentially a right over the intangible aspect of the work and copyright law does not exclude works created by illegal means from its protected subject matter. It shows that graffiti art can be protected even under an incentive-based copyright system like the United States Copyright Act. 

This article also analyzes the scope of the artists' rights over their graffiti works, and the extent to which graffiti works can be protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). It claims that VARA rights can protect graffiti works against modification and destruction from third parties, but not against the graffiti wall owner, whose property rights were violated when the graffiti was created. It further argues that VARA can fully protect the authorship of the work. It finally analyzes the particularities of VARA protection within the graffiti artists' context.

Download the paper from SSRN at the link.

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