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Are street artists protected by copyright law?

On Behalf of | Sep 16, 2019 | Copyright Law

Many artists here in New York understand that copyrighting their work helps protect their intellectual property. Copyright law exists to help artists make a legal claim if a person or company misuses or steals their artistic work. It’s used by artists of all types, including painters, musicians, photographers and more. A recent copyright claim could update the rules on what kinds of artistic works can be protected. Several street artists from out of state are fighting a suit from Mercedes-Benz, claiming that the automaker used their work without permission.

The claim involves four artists who sent threat letters to Mercedes-Benz after they claim the company used photos with their street art in the background on its Instagram account. The company has gone to court, claiming that the photos fall under fair use or that it is protected by the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act. That act says that a copyright claim on architecture can only be filed if someone builds an exact replica of an architectural structure. Mercedes-Benz argues that, under this act, photos of the building are protected.

The artists say that the act only covers the building itself and not the art drawn on it. Mercedes-Benz says that the art work was originally created as part of a local festival that was meant to promote that particular district and that photos of it should be protected. There is legal precedent here, where a similar case in another state was settled between an artist and automaker General Motors. The judge involved wouldn’t issue a summary judgment as requested by GM saying that the artwork was not part of the architecture.

However this particular case turns out, it only highlights the need for artists of all kinds to ensure that their work is legally protected. Those with questions on how to accomplish that may want to consult an attorney here in New York with experience in copyright law. It may be the best way for an artist to ensure that he or she makes all choices regarding the usage of an artistic work.