We would type-out the lyrics to that song, but you know what will happen.
Anyhow, Daniel Grant over at the WSJ has just written an article on the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, commemorating in part the statute’s 20th anniversary.
[Q]uestions have arisen that were not predicted in 1990. Do artists have the right to stake out where that artwork will be permanently placed? Can artists claim that whatever they make and identify as art has to be treated accordingly? If a damaged artwork undergoes restoration and the artist doesn’t like how it was done, can the artist claim the work was “destroyed”?
Grant also wonders if “making something better actually makes it worse.” This raises a whole slew of questions and fact-finding, mainly the double-edged issue of what constitutes “better” and who gets to decide what that “better” is. Cleaning and restoration aside, under VARA, this right would belong to the artist.
Grant correctly notices that one thing VARA has provided the arts community is contractual commissioning language where the artist waives her/his moral rights. Is this bad? Not necessarily. If artists continue to educate themselves in law and artists’ rights (copyright, fair use, free speech, contracts), they will have educated themselves not only in the nuances of contractual language, but also in the art of negotiation and professional decision-making. Not every art commission is worth the trouble, and certainly no business arrangement should be one-sided.
One thing Grant notices is true: VARA decisions–particularly those at the appellate and Supreme Court level–are few and far between. Correct VARA decisions are another matter.
Two issues of note in Grant’s article: one, Mr. Büchel did not initiate litigation against Mass MoCA. It was Mass MoCA that sued Mr. Büchel, seeking a court order granting them the right to exhibit Mr. Büchel’s work without his consent. Secondly, the District Court granted Mass MoCA permission to exhibit Mr. Büchel’s art work without his consent, so long as Mass MoCA made it apparent to viewers that what they were viewing was not the work of Christoph Büchel. [Disclaimer: I am one of the attorneys that is co-representing Mr. Büchel in this litigation].
Read Grant’s article in today’s WSJ here.