Art and the law: “Against moral rights”

“My argument is that moral rights laws endanger art in the name of protecting it”. [Amy Adler (NYU Law), 97 California Law Review (Feb.) (PDF), via ConcurOp] The best-known American application of the moral-rights concept in art is the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, which (among other provisions) gives visual artists a right to sue in some circumstances if later lawful owners of their artworks alter or destroy the works.


  • Under this, could an artist block the Day Without Art people from covering their statues for AIDS? Where I went to college, they put big ugly black plastic over all the statues on campus for that day.

    Technically, wrapping a statue with black plastic is altering a work of art. I wonder if I could create a sculpture and slip it onto campus unnoticed and then complain when they cover it to see if that argument had merit.

  • It’s been a long time since I wrote on this law (in a piece that isn’t online), but I believe it concerns itself mostly with 1) permanent, irreversible alterations to artworks or 2) public exhibition of works with some kinds of nonpermanent alterations when not intended by the artist. If merely concealing a work from view were an offense, a lot of people would be in trouble.