Street art, as long as it is original and fixed in a permanent medium, is eligible for copyright protection. This includes commissioned murals and even certain types of graffiti. However, there are still legal gray areas when it comes to protecting street art under copyright law. For information and advisement on copyright matters, contact Duncan Firm.
Cities and businesses are increasingly commissioning street artists to paint murals, logos, and lettering to add visual interest to what would otherwise be bare walls. If you are a commissioned artist, make sure you register your work with the US Copyright Office so you can protect your rights.
For example, you have the right to control the production and distribution of images of your art. This can be difficult to enforce since street art is often a popular location for picture-taking, and images of your art can easily spread across social media. However, there are examples of artists who have won cases against companies who have used their art without permission in ad campaigns. How the image is used and whether it is monetized is an important factor in whether your case has a good chance for success.
Copyright enforcement of street art is much more tenuous when it comes to graffiti. Courts have not yet ruled on the legal boundaries of graffiti and its relationship to copyright law. If graffiti is placed illegally, without securing the building owner’s permission, it may not be subject to protection under the law.
If you are a filmmaker or photographer who captures images of street art or graffiti, it is advisable, though not necessary in all cases, to seek out the artist’s permission. If street art or graffiti appears as a background element that is not emphasized, some courts have ruled in favor of filmmakers; otherwise, it would be difficult to film any scenes in an urban environment.
If you have questions about copyright law as it relates to street artists, or a potential legal concern, contact the team at Duncan Firm.