Two Moral Rights Suits over Public Murals

The now-destroyed Community Faces mural in Pittsburgh depicting artists, their relatives, and people from the community. Multiple artists created the work.

Artists have brought suit in Pittsburgh and Memphis over the destruction of public murals. Both suits involve the use of blighted buildings and spaces which have come under development. As these areas character changes, or as attitudes about the public art shift, City officials and landowners have removed, distorted, or even destroyed public murals.

In Memphis, as part of a 135 mural installation organized by Paint Memphis, seven murals drew the attention of Memphis City officials, and were painted over near the end of January in 2018 as part of a “miscommunication”.

Memphis City Council officials say they have received complaints about some of the murals, and want to allow residents to vet the murals before they are erected in public spaces.

A similar dispute involving mural artist Kyle Holbrook has taken place in Pittsburgh. Holbrook alleges that property owners, the city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and others have destroyed eight of his murals on walls and buildings.

Both suits use the federal moral rights law, the Visual Artists Rights Act as a basis for remedying destruction of murals and even attempting to enjoin further destruction.

Ryan Poe, Artists sue Memphis for failed attempt to scrub “satanic” murals, Commercial Appeal, April 26, 2018, https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/government/city/2018/04/26/artists-sue-memphis-failed-attempt-scrub-satanic-murals/555788002/ (last visited May 17, 2018).

Torsten Ove, Artist sues Pittsburgh, Allegheny County for destroying murals he created on their buildings, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 30, 2018, http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/art-architecture/2018/04/30/Mural-artist-Pittsburgh-Kyle-Holbrook-lawsuit-federal-Allegheny-County-destruction-contract/stories/201804300177 (last visited May 17, 2018).

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