Brooklyn Street Art (BSA) WRITER’S BENCH : “STREET ART AND GRAFFITI: THE ROLE OF COPYRIGHT” BY ENRICO BONADIO
May 4, 2021
PHOTO: Banksy's works are frequently taken off walls, resold, etc. - all with questionable provenance. This original in San Francisco was taken off a wall and its "ownership" is still not clear beyond the fact that the artist will not authenticate the provenance.
Like graffiti writers sharing black books and styles, BSA Writer’s Bench presents today’s greatest thinkers in an OpEd column. Scholars, historians, academics, authors, artists, and cultural workers command this bench. With their opinions and ideas, we expand our collective knowledge and broaden our appreciation of this culture ever-evolving.
by Enrico Bonadio
Stencil Archive disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. Though Bonadio is an attorney based in London, please seek out a local IP attorney if you need actual legal advice. It is all about the client-attorney relationship, so this re-post is a great start. It is not legal advice.
Street Art and Graffiti: The Role of Copyright
Artists are getting robbed. It is time to give them the legal tools they need. With this spirit, a few years ago, I started researching copyright aspects of street art and graffiti.
These artistic movements have been intriguing me for a while. Living for several years in the East London area of Shoreditch, where creativity has exploded and developed after the new millennium’s arrival, has certainly nurtured my curiosity towards these forms of art.
Walking through Brick Lane, Red Church Street, Hackney Wick, and other London neighborhoods full of free-hand graffiti pieces, stenciled images, myriads of stickers and paste-ups, street poetry and sculptures, abandoned miniatures, and many other artworks – opened my eyes and broadened my knowledge of these artistic movements. Visiting, discovering, and experiencing graffiti-friendly areas around the world – including Stokes Croft in Bristol, Kreuzberg in Berlin, Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn, Hosier Lane and Fitzroy in Melbourne, Florentin and Nachalat Binyamin in Tel Aviv, La Candelaria and Puente Aranda in Bogota’ – filled me with even more curiosity and willingness to study further and understand these creative subcultures.
While studying and admiring the beautiful art that cityscapes can offer us for free, I could not help thinking about whether and to what extent the branch of law I’ve been researching (and practicing) for many years – i.e., copyright law – may regulate such forms of creativity. So I started wondering about whether the artworks I was admiring could and should be protected by copyright in the very same way works of fine art are, even where the pieces are created illegally, namely, without the consent of the owner of the tangible support upon which the piece is placed, for instance, a wall.