"Droit d’auteur" (a natural right to copyright) is being tested locally — and I’m sure that there are some IP attorneys considering new ways to employ the law….. Sculptor sues Fidelity to keep his artistic vision intact [pdf]
For David Phillips, the commission for Fidelity Investments had all the makings of a career-defining project. The artist, who creates work for public spaces, was paid $575,000 to design a sculpture park outside the offices of Pembroke Real Estate, a Fidelity-owned company on the Boston Waterfront.
[…] Three years later, Phillips and Fidelity are no longer talking. The company wants to remove the artist’s work as part of a redesign of Eastport Park.
Phillips has responded with a lawsuit that, if he wins, will help define a pair of relatively new laws designed to protect artists. US District Court Judge Patti B. Saris has issued a restraining order barring Fidelity from making changes to Eastport Park. She may hand down her decision this week.
[…] [Modification of the work] also not allowed, [lawyer David] Epstein has argued, under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act and the Massachusetts Art Preservation Act. Both are designed to protect artists from distortion or other changes in their work.
[…] The Visual Artists Rights Act was passed soon after the dismantling of Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc.” In 1981, the artist was hired by the federal government to create a sculpture in the Federal Plaza in New York City. Some hailed the 120-foot long, 12-foot high steel sculpture as a perfect example of public art. Others said it was ugly, attracted graffiti artists, and should be removed. In 1989, during the night, federal workers sliced it into three pieces and removed it from the plaza.
In 1990, Congress approved the Visual Artists Rights Act, meant to “to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification” of artwork. The law was tested in 1999 when Jan Martin, a sculptor in Indianapolis, sued the city after it bulldozed one of his works. Martin was awarded $20,000 in statutory damages, as well as $130,000 in legal fees. The Massachusetts Art Preservation Act, also named in Phillips’s suit, has not been tested, Epstein said.
“A restriction on what you’re allowed to do with artwork that you’ve purchased is a novel concept in American laws,” said Daniel Grant, the Amherst author of “The Business of Being an Artist.” “People who hadn’t heard of it probably wouldn’t assume there are these restrictions. They think of art as decoration . . . And half a million dollars isn’t probably a big deal for [Fidelity]. But for the artist, it’s a huge deal, and he has the protection of the state and federal statute.”