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Mar
15

How “Fine” is Your Art?

17 USC section 106A is known as the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA). The statute provides as follows:
(a) Rights of Attribution and Integrity.- Subject to section 107 [Ed. Note: the fair use section] and independent of the exclusive rights provided in section 106, the author of a work of visual art-
(1) shall have the right-

  • (A) to claim authorship of that work, and
  • (B) 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;

What this means in layman’s terms is that an artist has the right to be known as the author of a work; and that his or her name cannot be used as the author of any work he or she did not create.

(2) 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; and

In addition, an artists has the right to have his or her name removed from a work he or she created in the event that the work is distorted or otherwise changed, and the result would be harmful to the artist’s honor and reputation.

(3) subject to the limitations set forth in section 113(d), [Ed. Note: the provisions dealing with the destruction of a building etc. containing a work of visual art] shall have the right-

  • (A) to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right, and
  • (B) to prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature, and any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of that work is a violation of that right.

However, how does one know if his or her artwork qualifies for this protection? The statute states that it protects only works of “recognized stature.” How do you know if your work qualifies?

In a trial, this question would be determined by expert opinion. Experts in the fine arts do not judge a piece by aesthetics alone. Rather, they consider the reputation of the artist, the significance of the work in the artistic community, and its value in an art-historical context. Consideration will be given to how the art is received in the artistic community, in order to determine if it is as piece of “recognized stature.”

So, if you are an artist trying to create a reputation for yourself and protect your own rights, do your best to keep records of you exhibitions, and any reviews of your artwork. You never know when these records may be needed to protect the integrity of your work.