Street art is a form of visual art which has gained much popularity in recent times. Street artworks are displayed in areas which permit the general public to easily view them. In many cases, street art is used to not only provide aesthetic value, but also deliver an important message.
Although most street artists do not realize that such is the case, it is possible for street art to receive intellectual property protection. Street art can be copyrighted. Street artists who receive intellectual property protection for their artwork in the form of a copyright can benefit from the copyright in many ways.
Intellectual Property Protection of Street Art
According to the intellectual property laws of most countries, all original artworks including street art receive copyright protection from either their creation or their creator’s registration for a copyright. A copyright protects legal and moral rights related to street art.
Legal rights refer to the exclusive rights to duplicate, disseminate, or adapt any piece of street art. Moral rights allow the artist to be identified as the creator of the street art. These intellectual property rights apply even if the artist does not make money from the street art. Even though street art is displayed in a public area, all copies, including most photographs, of such art require the explicit permission of the copyright owner (usually the artist).
Street Art and Copyright Infringement
The use of street art for any purpose exists on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum are blatant acts of copyright infringement. At the other is fair use of the street art which abides by all relevant intellectual property laws. Although copyright infringement as it pertains to street art can sometimes be difficult to define, the key factor which determines if infringement has been committed is the nature of use.
In general, reproductions of street art are permitted for the purposes of commentary, journalism, research, evaluation, criticism, or study. Photographs of street art may also be permitted if they will not be used for commercial purposes. Images which only contain a portion of the street art are also usually regarded as fair use.
Infringement of intellectual property rights can occur when a replication or reproduction of street art is done for commercial purposes. Copyright infringement may also take place when the nature of the original artwork is altered in some way. Another method by which intellectual property rights related to street art may be violated arises when the replication or reproduction negatively impacts the artist’s reputation.
How to Prove Ownership of a Street Art Copyright
Since it can sometimes be difficult to prove that one owns a copyright for any work of street art, street artists are encouraged to take steps which would prove that they indeed own the copyright. Once they have done so, it will be easier for them to enforce their intellectual property rights. Street artists who would like to facilitate proper enforcement of their intellectual property rights may opt to use a copyright notice which would accompany their work. The use of consistent pseudonyms also proves to be helpful because it makes it easier for artists to be accurately identified.
In addition, a street artist might choose to have a website with contact details. Such an artist can even consider leaving the website’s URL or an email address with all artwork done. Having proof of copyright ownership does not only benefit a street artist. Those who are seeking permission to use the artwork in any way will also need evidence of this copyright ownership. Without such evidence, it is possible that such a person might unwittingly commit an act of infringement of intellectual property rights.
Authorization of Street Art and Copyrights
Although some street art might be unauthorized, it is still possible for such street art to benefit from the intellectual property protection afforded by a copyright. Courts assess legal cases regarding intellectual property rights related to unauthorized street art according to the principles of prevailing statutory copyright laws. Such an approach proves that street art is copyrightable regardless of its authorization.
Some have criticized this approach to unauthorized street art and intellectual property laws. These critics claim that the law should not abet unauthorized acts. However, this argument is flawed; it is only relevant when the street art’s content breaks the law. In the context of intellectual property laws and the copyrightability of unauthorized street art, the content of the artwork and the legality of the act of creating the art are not to be associated.
This article brought to you by Exy Intellectual Property Malaysia and Singapore.