Friday 18 May 2012

Graffiti and copyright law: a new article

A 42-page draft article, "Outlawed Art: Finding a Home for Graffiti in Copyright Law", by Nicole A. Grant (Columbia University, Law School), has been posted on SSRN (click here for details).

The abstract of this thoughtful illustrated article reads as follows:
"An intractable tension exists between the existence of graffiti as iconoclastic youth expression and the emergence of its recognition as an art form, and the boundaries of American copyright law. As graffiti gains more traction in the mainstream art world, copyright law has come to frame much of the discussion surrounding the rights that stem from (and that are overlooked by) the creation of these works. While graffiti is heralded for its uniqueness, it also thrives in a culture of appropriation that encourages dialogue among graffiti artists, in addition to establishing as the norm the pilfering of everyday cultural referents for artistic use. On the one hand, the [United States] Copyright Act grants protection to all original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression, which ostensibly could include illegal works of graffiti. On the other hand, the rights that could be extended to graffiti artists are limited by the nature of graffiti itself - by virtue of its illegality, there is the risk that works lose a layer of protection when pitted against the property owners whose buildings act as unwitting canvases, and other artists from whom a graffiti artist/secondary user culls material for his own work. This Paper addresses the competing interests and tensions that arise from these considerations, ultimately asking the question whether copyright law can find any coherence in the culture and art of graffiti".


Thorsten Lauterbach said...

Thank you for making us aware of this thought-provoking piece - a great read to end the (working) week on a high! This article reminds me of a similar discussion in Germany against the background of 'street art', graffiti on the Berlin Wall etc. An excellent contribution on this (in German only) was made by Florian Wagenknecht, "Der Schutz von „Street-Art“ – und die Verwertungsmöglichkeiten von Fotos" (

stefano sandri said...

the key question seems to be: where is going the modern Art to? If you accept that an outcome whatsoever originating from an intellectual creative process may be Art, graffiti too can be considered artistic work as weel as the Campbell soup tin of Andy Warhol or the water closet of Marcel Duchamp and to protect them accordingly within the limit of the Law.
If you think that Art means something more, you have firstly to agree on that. A mission impossible?
stefano sandri