Fine Art Gets Special Treatment Under Copyright Law

Most people know what a copyright is, but just in case you’re a little rusty, here’s a quick brush-up: Copyrights grant the exclusive rights to intellectual property, as well as the rights to own, distribute and profit from a work. The owner of the copyright can also allow other parties to sell or distribute the work. While an idea cannot be copyrighted, the expression of that idea through a medium can be.

Read more about copyright & trademark law

Extra Protection for Fine Art

Thanks to the federal Visual Arts Rights Act (VARA), creators of fine art have additional rights when it comes to the reselling & destruction of their artwork. In order to qualify for VARA protection, the artwork must meet the following guidelines:

  • It has to be a painting, drawing, photograph or sculpture. 
  • It must be either a single copy or a limited edition.
  • If it’s a limited edition, there has to be a limit of 200 copies. Each copy must be signed & consecutively numbered.

Why should you hire a local attorney?

The most powerful part of VARA is this right: 

The artist is protected from “intentional distortion, mutilation or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to your honor or reputation.”

However, if the artwork was created before December 1, 1990, when VARA was enacted, it is not protected. Also, if the artist waives his VARA rights in a written statement; if modification results naturally from the passage of time; or if the artwork was made-for-hire, the destruction rule won’t apply. Most copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the artist plus an additional 70 years. VARA protection, though, only lasts for the life of the artist.

For more information on copyright & trademark law, visit

One thought on “Fine Art Gets Special Treatment Under Copyright Law

  1. Pingback: The Real Cost of Plagiarism | The Angelino Law Blog

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