Graffiti and the Visual Artists Rights Act: When Private Rights Adorn Public Spaces

Production Date: April 16, 2018 Practice Areas: Art Law Estimated Length: 3760 minutes

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Humans have been creating graffiti – inscriptions or drawings on public surfaces – for over 20,000 years. During this time, graffiti's status has ranged from an accepted form of public communication to the reviled defacement of others' property. Over the past 50 years, graffiti have evolved from personal tags illegally painted on gritty public infrastructure to fine art sold at auction and in galleries. As the quality and commercial value of graffiti have risen, so too has litigation to prevent its destruction and misappropriation. Congress enacted the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) in 1990 to grant moral rights to artists; it has since become graffiti artists' sharpest tool for controlling the destiny of both their sanctioned and unsanctioned works.

In VARA cases, courts must explore the inherent tension between the moral rights granted to graffiti artists and the property rights of the owners of the surfaces on which the graffiti rests. This webinar, presented by Flann Lippincott of Lippincott IP, will discuss the significant VARA cases and the copyright, property, criminal, and commercial issues that arise.

Lippincott was an art history major in college and has long been interested in how graffiti reflects a society's culture and values. Flann has counseled graffiti artists and art dealers who represent graffiti artists, and she uses graffiti art as the foundation of a presentation on design law.


Learning Objectives:

  1. Identify the relevant sections of the Copyright Act as they pertain to VARA
  2. Define the scope of an artist's moral rights in both sanctioned and unsanctioned graffiti
  3. Explore the tension between those moral rights and the rights of public and private property owners
  4. Discuss the key issues to be mindful of when advising artists, property owners, and civic organizations about how VARA affects their livelihood