Sunday, December 7, 2008


VARA is an odd intellectual property law that I only recently came to find out about. It applies to visual art only (hence my only recent discovery of it), and it is the only law in American intellectual property that asserts so-called "moral rights".

Via the Art Law Blog, a case out of Los Angeles about the rights of the mural painter to guarantee that the city will not simply paint over his mural if it becomes vandalized. The quote from the Contra Coast Times:

"According to the complaint, Frank Romero's automobile-themed 'Going to the Olympics,' a mural which had adorned the Alameda Street underpass of the Hollywood (101) Freeway since 1984, was destroyed by [the California Department of Transportation] in June 2007. ... When the agency found that Romero's 2,040-square-foot mural had been vandalized by graffiti, Caltrans workers 'simply obliterated the mural by painting over it,' said Timothy B. Sottile, Romero's attorney."

The Art Law Blog post also notes the precedent to this going back to 1991, which was A) not long after VARA's passage (1990) and B) about the time of the Los Angeles Riots, and in general a period of instability in the city of Los Angeles.

I don't have anything particularly cogent to say, except that this is the sort of awkwardness that "moral rights" presents; on the one hand, emotionally, I believe that the mural has a right to be protected. On the other hand, from a legal standpoint, the city commissioned the artwork, and they have the right to be boorish art-haters if they want to. As someone who has been recently on the side of users in defense of original creators of late, I feel like I should be championing the latter, but really I lean more towards the former.

But I've read other cases (can't think of any right now) that made VARA seem more abusive, and I have not been in favor of "moral rights" in IP Law at all. I don't know. I'm conflicted