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IPFS News Link • Property Rights

Graffiti vs. Property Rights

• by Walter E. Block

That might be right.

There is an actual law on the books which could support such a judicial finding. Alternatively, the award was possibly made for a contract violation pertaining to graffiti! It might thus be incorrect to blame Judge Frederic Block (no relation to the present author) for denigrating private property rights in favor of graffiti artists who trespass with their paint on buildings owned by other people.

What is the story behind this brouhaha?

Jerry Wolkoff is the owner of the 5Pointz building complex in Queens, actually a former factory. In the 1990s he made a deal with several graffiti artists allowing them to display their art on his vacant five-story building. But then he reneged, and in 2013 without any by your leave or payment to them, he whitewashed over their drawings. They launched a successful lawsuit against him. Wolkoff was ordered to pay almost $7 million to 21 different artists.

However, the story does not end there. For there is a law lurking in the background called the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which, according to The New York Times, "has been used to protect public art of 'recognized stature' created on someone's else property." This is a horse of an entirely different color, legally speaking. According to this legislative enactment, unless the owner wishes to knock down his entire building (as it happens, that was Wolkoff's intention) he is not allowed to engage in any "intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to…(the) honor or reputation" of the graffitist.