Graffiti, also known as street art, originated in NYC during the late 60’s where teens would use markers to tag their names followed by the number of the street where they lived. Nowadays graffiti has become a work of art and has become protected by law.
Dubbed “the world’s largest open-air aerosol museum,” at 200,000-square feet, the 5Pointz complex in Long Island City, Queens has been the center of a lawsuit between artists and building developers. Since the 90’s the exterior of the building located at 45–46 Davis Street was adorned with murals, while its interior was occupied by more than 200 artists.
In 2013, after 40 years of ownership, the Wolkoff family decided to whitewash the building’s graffiti exterior in order to prepare for its demolishment and to subsequently be replaced with condominiums.
The case was brought to federal court in a lawsuit that stated that the building owner violated federal law when the building was painted over with white paint.
Last week a federal court in Brooklyn agreed and awarded 21 5Pointz graffiti artists $6.7 million in damages for their destroyed artwork.
The jury found that the artwork was protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act or V.A.R.A.
The act states the following:
“Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 – Amends the copyright law to define a ‘work of visual art.’ Grants the author of a work of visual art the right to claim authorship of such work when publicly displayed, independent of other exclusive rights, and to disclaim authorship of such work because of substantial distortion or alteration that harms his or her reputation. Grants such an author the right to prevent any destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would harm his or her reputation or honor.” 
Read more here.
The lawyer for the Wolkoff’s family claimed that the artists were aware that the building showcasing their art would at some point be torn down in order to build a new development.
Eric Baum, a lawyer for the artists said, “the clear message is that art protected by federal law must be cherished and not destroyed. With this win, the spirit of 5Pointz becomes a legacy for generations of artists to come. It confirms that aerosol art is the same as any other fine artist. And that the artist deserves dignity and respect.”
I’m attorney Francine Ward join my conversation on my Facebook Law Page, my Twitter Law Page, my Google+ Page, and one of my LinkedIn Groups.

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