D Young V art from Made in China. One is original and the other is a copy. Photographs courtesy of Eddie Colla

D Young V art from Made in China. One is original and the other is a copy. Photographs courtesy of Eddie Colla

Is art child’s play? A scribble here, a dash of color there affixed on paper,canvas or wall, a pile of rocks, a photograph, a folded paper. It is art at least in the eyes of the beholders, including the creator. When does it become more than that retaining value, worth, possession, recognition and unexpected legalities? Be you the creator or the viewer everyone is impacted as these intangible assets are perceived, coveted and acted on. At any given time we may be the creator, viewer or both and subject to laws we have no idea exist that protect and impede.

Even something as innocuous as photographing a street art mural or graffiti, an unknown person on the street, a building, or country scene and sharing it with others can lead to legal consequences.

Since we have been documenting street art we have received a continuum of emails asking us if permission is needed to take photos and movies of street art, shoot commercials driving by street art and selling photos of street art. We have also been contacted to arrange for artists to create art at events and businesses. These are all legal matters.

There has been a number of incidents involving artists who create art in the San Francisco Bay Area where their or others rights may have been breached. Each incident has a different twist that leads to interpretation and dealing with the contract and copyright laws. Following are a few examples:

Art created by Jessica Hess that falls under “Fair Use”

San Francisco based artist Jessica Hess captures street art and graffiti in their natural setting using oil on canvas and gouache on paper that can be acquired through Hashimoto Contemporary and Spoke Art in San Francisco. We asked her how copyright laws impact her art.

Graffiti wall by a freeway. Photography courtesy of Jessica Hess

Graffiti wall by a freeway. Photography courtesy of Jessica Hess

In my art I aim to not only capture fleeting images of our cities’ derelict structures but also to pay tribute to the amazing public art collaboration that is street art. My paintings include the artwork of hundreds of graffiti and street artists who inspire me. The goal of these writers is to be seen… to get up and stay up. My paintings become a means for those artists to have their work run forever, even after it’s been buffed or covered up on the street. I hope street artists can take it as a compliment when their art appears in mine, graffiti and street artists contribute so much to the vibrancy and beautification of our cities.

Jessica Hess "Bayview II" oil on canvas 24" x 44"

Jessica Hess “Bayview II” oil on canvas 24″ x 44″

While copyright is a concern for all artists, the way in which I include these public works falls under fair use. “Fair use” is not simply a copy of someone else’s work, it must also be the product of the author’s creativity. When I include works I find on the street, I am not claiming authorship of those cameos, and more importantly, I am not using anything out of context, something I think is incredibly important out of respect for the original artists. I am a city-scape painter who is staying true to her subject: wheat-pastes, stickers, spray paint, and all.

Art created using a Photograph taken by another person
This photograph is posted on the Huffington Post

This photograph was posted on the Huffington Post and shown here only for educational purpose

Artist Shepard Fairey used a photo by Mannie Garcia of AP “Associated Press” to create his famous 2008 Obama Hope poster. In 2009 AP challenged Fairey in his use of the photo stating it infringed on copyright issues. Barack Obama Poster. See outcome when you click on Shepard Fairey name.

Art printed & sold without artist knowledge – labeled as Banksy
Walmart Ad

Walmart Ad

At the end of 2013 while Oakland based Eddie Colla was curating and participating in a group show called Made in China at Ian Ross Gallery which explored the value of art and intellectual property when he discovered his own art for sale at Walmart.com and labeled Banksy art. Read: It is Only Stealing if you get Caught

Mural basis of merchandise line by Italian Designer
Reyes, Revok and Steel Mural in San Francisco

Reyes, Revok and Steel Mural in San Francisco

In 2014 Reyes, Revok and Steel sued Italian clothing designer Roberto Cavalli for creating a line of merchandise based their mural in San Francisco Soma. Their suit acquised him of copyright infringement and violation of the Lanham Act. Read article Graffiti artists fight copying fashion brands

Photograph of street art sold as artwork in Art Gallery
Yola Art

Yola Art

Polish Artist Yola visited San Francisco several years ago to paste up her Renaissance inspired art. In 2014 she discovered a photography exhibit where a closeup photo of her artwork was on display for sale. Read about the incident Yola Art

Art rights when art done illegally
Banksy Rat on Folsom St in San Francisco Ca, similar to the one in the Haight

Banksy Rat on Folsom St in San Francisco Ca, similar to the one in the Haight

In 2010 Banksy swept though San Francisco leaving several illegal stencils on buildings around San Francisco. Most of them were buffed over by the owners in compliance with anti-graffiti laws. One in the Haight was saved by a local resident and street art enthusiast who sought permission to save it prior destruction and promised not to sell it. Learn its’ current disposition: Banksy Haight Mural

What are the art laws and what is your art worth?

What are the legalities of creating, owning, using, photographing artwork and the consequences of dealing with illegal art and reproductions ? These are topics most people don’t intentionally seek out until they find themselves in need of legal advise or counsel. Several art loving attorneys established Art Law Journal, a blog to raise awareness of issues everyone who creates art should learn about. Their blog may not be the end all but it may be the beginning of your thought process when engaged in activities that are an extension of the art. Following is a sampling of some articles.

equity crowdfunding art,
visual art ownership
low risk gambit stealing instagram photo
6 copyrights street art
planning registration copyright office