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Aug
20

What’s in a Name?

I recall the time, as a joke, a relative made a piece of ceramic “art” and signed it “Picasso.” He then told our family that he had purchased an original ceramic ashtray by the late, great artist. We all had a good laugh. But had this event happened today, and if Picasso were still alive, my relative would have been in violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990.

The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, 17 USC section 106A, (“VARA”) is the statute that provides protection for the moral rights of an artist; it affords protection for the artist’s name and reputation. This statute states that an artist has the right to “prevent the use of his or her name as the author of any work of visual art which he or she did not create.” It also provides that an artist “shall have the right to prevent the use of his or her name as the author of the work of visual art in the event of a distortion, mutilation, or other modification of the work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation.” Furthermore, the statute prohibits “any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to (the artists’) honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right, and…prevents any destruction of a work of recognized stature,” This statute also prohibits intentional destruction and destruction due to gross negligence of works of “recognizable stature.”

While these rights appear to be large in scope, there are some limitations. The rights are only granted for the life of the author. Also, the statute is limited by the Copyright Act, which defines a work of visual art in a limited manner. Most significantly, the concept of a “work of visual art” does not include any poster, map, globe, chart, technical drawing, diagram, model, applied art, or any work made for hire.

If you have a question or legal matter involving VARA, feel free to contact Mia Rosenblatt Tinkjian at mrt@kongreen.com.