The Supreme Court will not hear again the 5Pointz graffiti case
The United States Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a motion to rehear a case brought by a New York City real estate developer that demolished the iconic graffiti-covered 5Pointz warehouse in Long Island City, Queens. The High Court’s denial means that $ 6.7 million in damages that were awarded to a group of contributing street artists will officially stand.
The case comes from the developers Gerald Wolkoff and David Wolkoff who in 2002 made an agreement with local graffiti artists allowing them to use their 5Pointz warehouse as an exhibition space for street art. The location quickly became a mecca for graffiti artists.
After the Wolkoffs decided to demolish the building in 2013, the artists sued under the Visual artists rights act (VARA), a federal copyright law of 1990 that grants artists certain “moral rights” by giving them a certain degree of control over their work even if it belongs to someone else. The Wolkoffs immediately violated a court order by laundering the property, painting over all artwork.
A Federal District Judge ruled in 2018 that under VARA, modifications to works deemed to be of “recognized status” are prohibited and that such modifications require at least 90 days’ notice to the original creators of the work of art. The judge ordered the Wolkoffs to pay $ 150,000 for each of the 36 graffiti murals destroyed, for a total of $ 6.7 million.
Lawyers for the Wolkoffs appealed the district court ruling, in particular the ruling that street art in 5Pointz merited consideration under VARA’s “recognized status” clause, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeal confirmed this decision in February.
Donyale Reavis, an intellectual property lawyer and assistant professor at Penn Law School, said the Supreme Court’s denial of certification was a huge victory for artists.
“Sometimes the little guy is actually Goliath. Huge victory for street art. Huge victory for hip-hop. 45 artists will receive $ 150,000 / each due to voluntary developer laundering, ”she tweeted. “One more step towards athletes and artists who design their tattoos to use VAWA to get this video game.”
[image via YouTube screengrab]
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