Written by Sanjeet Arora Work expereience, University of Wolverhampton on 01 October 2015« Return to Reading Room
Who owns street art?
Who is the owner of street art? Is it the artist or the owner of the building on which it was painted or sprayed on? The answer is quite complicated.
Allow me to explain, bearing in mind there is a distinction between copyright in work and ownership of the physical thing on to which is sprayed. The artists enjoys the copyright of its artistic work and the right of its exploitation but however may or may nor own the physical prospects on which it was painted or sprayed upon: the canvas or the wall. So if, an artist paints or sprays a mural on the wall, ownership of the bricks along with the paint on which it was painted belongs to the owner of the wall.
Recently legal boundaries of the ownership of the mural called Art Buff (street art) was tested when it was removed from a wall in Folkestone and put up for sale. A street artist who goes by the name Banksy caught a public eye, when a High Court judge ordered for its return, a mural (Art Buff) illustrating a women staring at an empty plinth.
Furthermore the position is complicated whereas the wall, which forms part of a building, was let to a tenant. Whereas the tenant allowed creative foundation a charity, which promoted art in the Folkstone region, to cut out the piece of art from the wall and framed, and shipped to the US and offered for sale. The tenant argued that ‘he was obliged to remove the mural form the wall to comply with its repairing obligation in the lease, as the mural was a graffiti and that the presence of the graffiti resulted in disrepair, and that it was acting in compliance with its repairing obligations, the bricks that he removed became waste material which he was owned by it not the by the freeholder.’
The judge rejected both contentions. He accepted that it was arguable that the presence of graffiti put the wall into disrepair, but cutting out bricks on which the mural appeared was not a feasible way of ameliorating the disrepair. He also said even if the tenant has been acting in compliance with its repairing obligation, the material removed from the building belonged to the landlord and not the tenant.
The art would be returned to folkstone by the creative foundation and put on display for the benefit of the local community and visitors.
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