Protection of Street Art

Has VARA Finally Found Its M├ętier?

Authored by: William T. McGrath

The Routledge Companion to Copyright and Creativity in the 21st Century

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138999251
eBook ISBN: 9781315658445
Adobe ISBN:


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When Congress passed Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) in 1990, visual artists in the US suddenly enjoyed a new set of rights—“attribution” and “integrity”—that purported to protect their reputations and the artistic works themselves. In the first two decades after its enactment, VARA failed to live up to these expectations. More recently, with new interest in street art, especially urban murals, VARA may have found its métier. Since murals and other forms of urban art are by nature easily accessible and vulnerable to depredation of various types, VARA’s goal of preservation of significant works of visual art takes on a major role. This essay examines whether VARA is effective at protecting art and artists through key cases involving art in public spaces, site-specific art and urban murals, specifically here, Cohen and Ors v G&M Realty, known simply as 5Pointz where urban artists won a 6.75 million judgment against a developer who whitewashed 45 individual artworks on the graffiti mecca, 5Pointz in New York. This case established that even temporary street art can be recognized as being of significant stature to merit VARA protection.

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