Student Comment: “The Law of Banksy: Who Owns Street Art?”

Banksy’s ‘mobile lovers’. It sparked a dispute between the Boys’ Club where it was painted, and the Bristol City Council which sought to seize it.

The artist Banksy creates valuable works of art, but he places them without permission, and this often raises property disputes.┬áPeter Salib, a JD candidate at the University of Chicago has posted a draft of “The Law of Banksy: Who Owns Street Art?” It is an interesting examination of the problem, though comparative lawyers and those outside the United States may share my frustration that though the author uses as an example the dispute between a Boys’ Club in Bristol, and the Bristol City Council, and an artist who works frequently in the United Kingdom and all over the world, insists on focusing almost exclusively on American law.

From the abstract:

Street Art — generally, art that is produced on private property not owned by the artist and without permission — has entered the mainstream. Works by such artists as Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Shepard Fairey now sell at the world’s most prestigious auction houses, fetching prices in the millions. Strangely, however, the law governing street art ownership is entirely undeveloped. The circumstances of street art’s creation — often involving artists’ clandestine application of their work to the sides of buildings owned by others — render traditional legal paradigms governing ownership intractable. If Banksy paints a valuable mural on the side of my house, who owns it? Me? Banksy? Someone else? American law is currently ill-equipped to answer the question.

This article rigorously investigates the problem of street art ownership. It accounts for the unusual circumstances of street art creation and distribution. It then considers the possible legal regimes for governing street art ownership and comes to a surprising recommendation.

  1. Peter N. Salib, The Law of Banksy: Who Owns Street Art?, SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2711789 (Social Science Research Network), Jan. 6, 2016.
  2. Owner of Banksy Mobile Lovers youth club received death threats, The Independent (Aug. 27, 2014), http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/banksy-mobile-lovers-sold-owner-of-youth-club-where-artwork-appeared-in-bristol-received-death-9695327.html.