Saturday, March 2, 2024

Can Artists Waive Moral Rights and Relinquish All Property Rights?

The answer is, yes.

Last week I wrote a couple of entries concerning whether or not artists always keep their copyrights. Donn Zaretsky argued “yes“, and I countered.

Well, just now something interesting came my way via a Clancco reader. The City of Redondo Beach (in our near-bankrupt state of California) is commissioning an artist for a mural project to be located in that same city. The call-for-artists text is interesting for many reasons (must be “non-controversial”), but for our purposes here the language is key. The call includes the following language:

The selected artist will be required to sign a project agreement which will include a provision waiving the artists’ rights to the Visual Artists Rights Act and California Artists Preservation Act.  The mural shall be the property of the City of Redondo Beach.

Of course the artist would have to agree to these conditions. Assuming he/she did agree, the artist would not only waive her/his moral rights (state and federal), but perhaps also give up their intellectual property rights to the mural. It’s unclear if “property” as laid-out above would include tangible and intangible property rights, but an artist would certainly be well-advised to obtain the advice and counsel of a lawyer before he/she decides whether or not to accept this commission.

Note also that the artist would only be receiving up to $200 (for materials) for this commission, and expected to donate their time to design and install the 10′ x 10′ mural. The commission language can be found here.


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  • dan fabian

    I am an artist, a former public art collection manager for a major US city, and a current law student. It is common for public art programs to require waiver of VARA rights, but not the copyright. Frankly, public art is often neglected by municipalities. Without the waiver, cities would not likely entertain the risk of being sued, and choose to forgo public art commissions. Although I agree that VARA rights can be waived under 17 USC s106A(e)(1), I disagree that ownership of the tangible object necessarily involves transfer of the s106 rights. See 17 USC s202.

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