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News from City, University of London

Who owns Street Art?

Academic argues that graffiti and street art deserve copyright protection
by Sophie

A law lecturer from City University London has called for copyright protection to apply to graffiti and street art in the same way it does to other artistic works.

Enrico Bonadio, an expert in Intellectual Property Law, argues that while these works satisfy the requirements for copyright protection, they are increasingly being used by advertisers without the artist's permission.

"Graffiti is sometimes considered a lesser art as it is either produced illegally or just displayed on the streets and therefore outside the official art gallery circuit. Yet graffiti, and street art more generally, can be as creative and original as anything you'll find in a traditional venue; it can also be very commercially valuable. It's time our copyright laws caught up with this reality".

Stik GraffitiLondon-based street artist Stik recently reached a settlement with a company after discovering they were using his piece, Stick Thief, in an advert without his permission. Discussing the case on the BBC World Business News programme, Enrico Bonadio said there have been multiple incidents like this in the last few years:

"Cases like these, where we see the appropriation of art works by big corporations, show that graffiti art works can be easily targeted and reproduced for commercial profits. Marketing and communications professionals may think that because these murals are placed on the streets and may be illegal, that they are free to reproduce them - that is wrong, in my opinion. They are no different to more traditional artistic works and meet the requirements for copyright protection".

In Stik's case, the artwork was painted on the door of his own art studio, however, in an article written for The Conversation, Enrico argues that even illegally produced graffiti deserves copyright protection.

"Possible wrongdoings committed by street artists (trespass, vandalism and so on) concern the process through which the works are done: painting on a wall or train, for instance, without the authorisation of the property owner.

Yet the process by which an artwork is created should be neutral in copyright terms. Other works that are created illegally are indeed protected by copyright in many jurisdictions - paparazzi pictures that violate privacy laws, for instance".

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