Saturday, April 20, 2024

Supreme Court Allows US Museums to Exhibit Foreign Made Art

Gerhard Richter, Two Candles.

Last October, I wrote about an interesting case, Wiley v. Kirtsaeng, which although not directly art related had major negative implications for US-based exhibition venues.

Today, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision on this case, and overturned the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, effectively stating that the first sale doctrine under the US Copyright Act, which allows for legally acquired copyrighted works to be resold by their owners, does apply to works made overseas. Previously, the Second Circuit, had ruled that the term “lawfully made” limited first sale “specifically and exclusively” to works that are made in territories in which the U.S. Copyright Act is law, and “not to foreign-manufactured works.”

As I explained before, had the US Supreme Court upheld the Second Circuit decision, it would have prevented US-based museums and arts institutions from exhibiting, lending, or selling foreign-made, copyrighted artworks. In a nutshell, the decision, had it been upheld, could have affected large swaths of modern, postwar, and contemporary art on display in American museums today.

Art institutions have much to be thankful for today, primarily of being absolved of having to hire attorneys to parcel out what they could and could not show. A great day indeed.

The Supreme Court decision is available here (pdf format).

The Association of Research libraries has their view here.


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