The Spring issue of the Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property has published an interesting student note by Jaya Bajaj titled “Art, Copyright, and Activism: Could the Intersection of Environmental Art and Copyright Law Provide a New Avenue for Activists to protest Various Forms of Exploitation?” The piece works best as a thought experiment, and may be an argument used by the many detractors of moral rights for artists to further restrict the expansion of the still-developing series of rights for artists. But I find the article, and the experimental protest to be thoughtful and well-reasoned. Here’s the abstract:
In 2015, a group of activists led by Aviva Rahmani began an artistic venture known as “Blued Trees.” They painted blue sine waves onto trees along a proposed pipeline pathway, and subsequently filed for federal copyright registration. They hoped to use copyright law and the Visual Artists Rights Act as a sword against fossil fuel companies. Although the piece was destroyed later that year as part of the pipeline construction, the “Blued Trees” movement continues. This note will discuss Rahmani’s legal theory and consider this theory’s strengths and weaknesses. This experimental protest brings forth a number of unanswered questions about the nature of copyright law. It is no secret that contemporary art forms, and the mediums involved, are becoming increasingly diverse. Therefore, this note also seeks to address the merits and limitations of current copyright law in terms of environmental and installation art.
Cathay Smith (Asst. Prof. at Montana School of Law) has published an article in the St. John’s Law Review, Community Rights to Public Art. The article surely would have generated the attention of the student editors of the St. John’s Law Review, as the 5 Pointz building, until it was demolished in 2014, was located just a few miles away from the St. John’s campus. From the abstract:
In 1932, the Rockefeller family commissioned Diego Rivera to paint an enormous mural as the centerpiece of the RCA Building lobby in Rockefeller Center in New York City. The colorful mural that Rivera painted, titled Man at the Crossroads, included images of social, political, industrial, and scientific visions of contemporary society. One night in February of 1934, the Rockefellers hired workers to chisel the mural off the wall without any warning or notice. The mural was broken into pieces before being carted away and dumped. The destruction of his mural shocked Rivera. More importantly, however, the destruction of Rivera’s mural permanently deprived the public of a significant work of public art and heritage. The public was stunned at the destruction of the mural; protesters called the Rockefellers’ act “art murder” and “cultural vandalism.” Nevertheless, the mural was the Rockefeller’s property and, despite public support for the mural, they had the legal right to destroy it. More than eight decades later, communities still face this type of loss of heritage through the destruction of public art. For instance, public outrage followed the 2014 demolition of 5 Pointz in New York, when the owner of 5 Pointz whitewashed and destroyed the 20-plus-year-old “graffiti Mecca” to make way for two new $400 million luxury high-rise apartment towers. On the opposite coast, just last year, Piedmont Avenue neighbors in Oakland were shocked when the owner of Kronnerburger Restaurant demolished a beloved community mural in connection with its construction of a new trendy burger restaurant.
Property owners generally have the right to destroy their own property. This Article argues, however, that certain property is so connected to a community’s identity that the community’s right to preserve its heritage may trump a property owner’s right to destroy. This Article explores existing, yet underutilized, legal solutions a community may use or adapt to preserve public art when that art has become a part of its cultural heritage. Finally, recognizing that preservation has its limits, and that without destruction there will be no space for creation, this Article ultimately sets forth questions communities will need to grapple with as they weigh whether and how to protect works of public art as cultural heritage.
“The Revolution (Mural)” by David Alfaro Siqueiros
Julia L.M. Bogdanovich, a senior editor of thePennsylvania Law Review has authored an interesting comment examining how artists could pay taxes with in-kind payment. She uses a comparative approach highlighting both Mexico and the United Kingdom. From the Introduction:
According to popular accounts, in 1957 David Alfaro Siqueiros marched into Hugo B. Margáin’s office with a radical and risky proposal. There, the famous muralist bluntly told the new Director of Income Tax that the recent income tax reforms were unduly burdening Mexico’s artists because they “did not know about accounting or tax laws” and had no money with which to pay their obligations. “The only thing we have are paintings,” Siqueiros insisted. However, rather than seek a complete tax exemption for artists, he told Margáin that artists could instead pay taxes with their artwork. Because their art was valuable, Mexico could amass an enviable collection. Tasked with ensuring the success of the new tax system,8 perhaps Margáin was inclined to be creative, or perhaps he was an art aficionado. Regardless of his motives, Margáin replied, “It doesn’t seem like a bad idea.” Under Margáin’s leadership, the Mexican Ministry of Finance and Public Credit accepted Siqueiros’ proposal and launched a program called Pago en Especie (Payment in Kind) in November 1957, when it collected its first income tax payment in art.
Leila Alexandra Amineddoleh has posted an abstract of her latest piece, which appeared in the Spring issue of the Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal. Amineddoleh, as many readers likely know, teaches art and cultural heritage law as an adjunct Professor at a good portion of New York’s law schools, including I think recently with St. John’s and Fordham. She also is a Partner and co-founder of her own art and cultural heritage law firm, Galuzzo & Amineddoleh.
The authorship of artwork greatly affects its value. For this reason, authentication in art is a complex and sometimes contentious process. This paper examines the history of art authentication, due diligence to ensure that purchasers are not buying forgeries, complex cases without clear-cut answers, and legal tools available to buyers after a forgery has been purchased.
Amineddoleh, Leila Alexandra. “Are You Faux Real? An Examination of Art Forgery and the Legal Tools Protecting Art Collectors.” SSRN Scholarly Paper, May 26, 2015. http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2784963.
Lauren Jean Bradberry, a third year law student at Louisiana State has a comment in volume 76 of the Louisiana Law Review examining the scope of copyright protection for architecture. It offers an interesting read, so long as you can forgive the puns we lawyers seem to love.
The artist Banksy creates valuable works of art, but he places them without permission, and this often raises property disputes. Peter 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.
The Journal of Near Eastern Archaeology has a special issue covering the “Cultural Heritage in the Middle East”. There are ten contributions covering Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Afghanistan. All of the contributions are available on JSTOR. From the contents: