Graffiti And Intellectual Property Law?

Linkilaw Intellectual Property

Graffiti was often once thought of as nothing but a nuisance, a major eyesore for the communities where it was created. But, the facts are that street art as a movement is growing in popularity and street artists are now demanding more rights legally to their work.


Specifically, they want to know what rights they have under intellectual property laws and it’s a good question to ask because there have already been cases in recent times where this has been brought into question.

One of these cases regards a famous British street artist called Banksy. He created a mural on the side of a building, which had stood for years and a not-for-profit art gallery removed his work. However, the notoriety of Banksy was something the owners of the building realised, and they claimed that the mural was worth an estimated $100,000, proceeding to file for damages against the gallery that removed the mural.


Another case involves online giant Amazon. When Amazon opened its new headquarters in Seattle, Washington, it took some street paintings created on the walls of a former building on that site and installed them inside the new headquarters. When the street artists found out, they cried foul and demanded recognition.


So now the question remains, what can street artists do and what rights do they have over their work? Read on as we break down this fascinating topic. .


What Rights Does A Street Artist Have, If Any, Over Their Work?


Whether or not graffiti is subject to intellectual property (IP) laws is often determined by circumstance, the type of property the graffiti exists on, and who owns that property.

Artists, in general, are allowed to claim copyright protection to prevent others from stealing their work and ideas, and also making a profit from those. However, street art or graffiti is a different kettle of fish.


What makes the whole issue of graffiti and IP so tricky is that the work is often unsolicited. Many property owners don’t ask for street artists to create anything on their property. It’s also considered illegal in many countries.


The fact is that property laws often determine that unless the street artists either own the property in question or have permission from the property owners that it’s to be considered unsolicited graffiti. In the case where it’s unsolicited, street artists have little claim to the work, therefore, they can’t control how property owners use it and for what purpose.


In property laws in most countries, whether or not a street artist can mount any sort of copyright claim on their work rests solely on what the property owner wants to do. If the property owners agree to the work and believe it will add something of value to their building, then this gives the street artists a say in how the graffiti is used.


However, when they don’t agree to the street art, it is often considered vandalism and is unwarranted. And in this case, if the street artist comes forward and tries to mount any sort of ownership claim over the work, they are risking facing criminal charges.


In the case where the property owners approve the work or the street artist owns the property, they are then within their rights to file for copyright of that work. Then, if the work is removed or damaged, the artist can legally pursue grounds for statutory damages and any of the profits that are generated as a result of it.




As you can see, this is a tricky area primarily because street art is directly at loggerheads with the law and the lack of established rules specifically for street artists and IP rights.


However, in most countries, street artists cannot pursue any copyright violations, let alone file copyrights on their work unless they either own the property where the graffiti exists or they have permission from the property owners.


Without ownership of the property or permission from the property owners, street artists don’t really have much a leg to stand on when pursuing intellectual property violations.


To find out more about the line between IP law and graffiti, get in touch with us today.